Ways to Make Sunshine - Renee Watson Author Interview and Review

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Ryan Hart loves to spend time with her friends, loves to invent recipies, and has a lot on her mind—school, self-image, and family. Her dad finally has a new job, but money is tight. That means changes like selling their second car and moving into a new (old) house. But Ryan is a girl who knows how to make sunshine out of setbacks. Because Ryan is all about trying to see the best. Even when things aren’t all she would wish for—her brother is infuriating, her parents don’t understand, when her recipies don’t turn out right, and when the unexpected occurs—she can find a way forward, with wit and plenty of sunshine.

My review: 

The whole time I was reading I kept thinking this was written to be the next great series that kids can relate to, and then I read that it’s Renee’s version of Ramona Quimby series and I couldn’t be more excited. It ended where I have so many questions, but I know that Ryan’a stories are just beginning.

There were so many amazing themes intertwined, the most of all being to love who you were born to be.

My favorite quote from the ARC: “How you wear your hair is your choice and no matter what you choose, it’s not going to determine if you’re beautiful or not. The only thing that will determine that is how you treat others.”

Ryan is learning how to live up to her name that means “leader” and along the way she encounters fear, worry, jealousy, and many emotions she can’t quite play out. She hears her dads voice telling her to be a leader and she learns to think before she acts - great lessons to share and discuss in the classroom.

As a teacher, I also marked several spots for notice and note signposts!

Can’t wait for more of the Hart family! 

Q: Can you describe your revision/editing process for students? Also, do you start writing on paper/computer/etc?
A: I always start my first drafts by handwriting in my journal. There’s something about pen to paper for me that makes me feel more connected to my characters. It also makes me slow down. Once I feel like there’s a story to tell, I move over to my computer and type out of the rest. A lot of times, when I’m stuck in the middle of a draft, I go back to handwriting and that usually helps to get me unstuck.

My revision process usually includes sharing drafts with trusted readers who will give me feedback. I ask them: What do you want more of? and What questions do you have? These questions help me go deeper when I go back to revise. When I’m in the final stages of revision, I use Post-It Notes and storyboard the major scenes in each chapter. I stick them to the wall in my office space and then I can see the full story. I take a different color of Post-Its and fill in the gaps, marking where new scenes need to be added. This helps me see where the story is going and where I need to add more. It also gives me a clear checklist for the next round of revising.
Q: What is the transition from YA to MG to chapter books like?
A: There are some challenges transitioning between YA, MG, and chapter books, especially when thinking about how children talk versus how teens talk. But mostly, it’s been really fun to write for a younger audience. There’s a curiosity that is so pure at this age. Imagination and play are still encouraged and so the characters in Some Places More Than Others and Ways to Make Sunshine experiment and explore in ways that look very different from my teen characters.  
Q: Tell us a little bit about your work with social justice education. How can I as a classroom teacher ensure that my work is valid and promising.
A: My work with social justice education explores how art can be a form of activism and resistance. I try to create spaces where young people are celebrating and critiquing their worlds, making art in response to injustice, and raising their voices. As educators, to ensure that our work is valid and promising, we need to make sure the curriculum is culturally relevant and diverse. Knowing the life skills our students will need to be successful citizens of the world, I believe it is important to provide learning opportunities where students can practice empathy, listening, cooperation, collaboration, and sharing. These can seem like simple words, but I believe they are vital attributes of an equitable society. Two resources I turn to time and time again are Rethinking Schools and Teaching Tolerance. They have so much to offer teachers of all subjects and grade levels.
Q: Future middle grade projects that you are currently working on? 
A: I am working on book two in the Ryan Hart series. I’m picking things up where Ways To Make Sunshine left off—Ryan has a new baby sister and that’s bringing a lot of change into her world. Some of it good, some of it not so good.
Q: What advice would you give to middle grade students who are writing?  
A: I encourage young writers to read, read, read. If there’s a book you love, read it again and figure out what the author did to make you love that book. How did they end the chapters? What made you want to keep turning the page? Whatever your answer is, try to emulate that in your own work.

I also think it’s important to be a good listener. Good writers pay attention to what’s going on around them, they are observers. To be a strong writer, I think you have to talk less and listen more.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions. We are huge fans of Some Places More Than Others and now I know for sure that Ways to Make Sunshine will be a favorite chapter book series. I appreciate the opportunity to read in advance and share with my students!

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