Tell us about the process of getting to know your characters and discovering what makes them unique.
The process of developing the characters and the series as a whole started with deep prayer. First, seeking God about even pitching the idea for a middle grade (ages 8-12) series in the first place, and if yes, deciding everything else! Once the 1990’s time period of the series was settled on, the whole Tree Street Kids neighborhood started to come into focus. I’m currently drafting book 3 and still getting to know Jack, Midge, Ellison, Roger, and Ruthie. Some of their traits were inspired by my children and other children I know and love. But the characters are also very real and beloved to me. It’s a fascinating process, and one that I believe gives us the tiniest glimpse into the creative character of God.
Were there any parts of your childhood that inspired elements of The Tree Street Kids?
While the fact that my children were kids in the ’90’s was a great inspiration, one of the main events in Jack vs. the Tornado was based on one of two tornadoes I experienced as a child. I wrote about this in some detail on my blog, but the destruction of the barn my father and grandfather had built inspired the major plot point in the first book.
What did you enjoy about writing books that are set in the ’90s? What, if anything, made it challenging?
Writing stories set in the 1990s has been a case of “write what you know” and also “what can you remember?” I raised my kids in the ’90s, and we had a blast reminiscing about everything from favorite snacks to major life events—breaking the same arm twice, anyone? One of the challenges was keeping in mind that access to instant communication consisted of “pagers” and landline phones. (Thank goodness for Roger’s handy-dandy walkie-talkie!) The absence of mobile phones, especially, in the stories is a benefit as the characters are forced to figure a lot out for themselves.
What role do the kids’ faith play in their adventures? What do they learn about God’s character?
Faith plays a different role for each, depending on the character. Readers primarily experience Jack’s perspective since the books are written from his point of view. He is continually trying to understand how his faith fits into his daily life and apply it as it fits his age and spiritual maturity. Ellison is always ready with a fitting Bible verse. Ruthie was raised Catholic by her dad and grandmother. Roger’s family has never attended church, but he trusts his friends and is learning from them. There’s a scene I love that illustrates how God works in Roger’s life even through Jack’s lack of biblical knowledge:
“You’re all invited to my church for . . . the Super Steward Survival Caaammmppp!” Ellison made the last word echo.
His church was where my family had been going since the Henrys first invited us after we moved to the neighborhood.
Ellison read from the flyer. Dramatically, of course:
Super Steward Survival Camp (like VBS but with badges!)
August 14-18, 1995
For kids in K-6 grades
2nd thru 6th graders—Learn how to:
- Build a shelter
- Start a fire with sticks
- Be a good steward of God’s earth
Earn badges and compete against other teams for the ultimate Super Steward badge!
“This sounds so cool!” Roger said, looking over the edge of his flyer. “What’s V-B-S?”
“Vacation Bible School,” Ellison said. He walked over to the cooler we kept our snacks in and grabbed five juice boxes.
“But not vacation like going to Disney World,” Midge added.
Roger’s eyes darted to each of us. He squirmed a little on his bucket. “Um, I think my family may be going on a camping trip that week. To Australia.”
Obviously, Roger was not going camping in Australia. I figured maybe he was worried about the “Bible” part of VBS. “We need you on our team if we’re gonna win the Super Steward badge,” I said. “Maybe your family could go to Australia another time.”
“You don’t need to know about the Bible,” Ellison said, handing out the juice boxes.
Roger didn’t look convinced. He unwrapped his small bendy straw and stuck it into the juice box. He quietly sucked down his fruit punch.
Midge piped up. “Yea. Jack only knows one verse. ‘Jesus wept.’”
I would have been mad at her. Except it actually seemed to make Roger feel better.
“Really?” Roger finished with an impressively loud slurp. “Then I’m in.”
In addition, each book’s theme is built on a foundational verse. For Jack vs. the Tornado, the theme is trusting God in uncertainty and the foundational verses are Psalm 118:6A, “The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid,” and Hebrews 11:9: “By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.” In The Hunt for Fang, the theme is stewardship of what belongs to God, and the foundational verses are Job 12:7-10: “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”
What is the main thing that you hope your young readers will take from The Tree Street Kids?
More than anything, my hope for young readers is that they come to know and believe God loves them and He is their hope. I also want kids to laugh; learn some cool science, literature, and history facts; and have fun!
Can you give us a sneak peek into what might be coming next for the Tree Street gang?
Books 3 and 4 release in 2022 and are being developed and drafted as books 1 and 2 are released and marketed. (Talk about a tornado.) Book 3 is tentatively titled Lions to the Rescue! Here’s the unofficial blurb:
If getting tackled is the best way to make new friends, that’s okay with Jack Finch. After all, starting fifth grade at a new school is even rougher than pee wee football. But how can he join the Lions and help Ellison build the Most Epic Bookmobile Bike Ever? Jack devises the perfect game plan–until he fumbles it with the most epic bike crash ever and a game day disaster.
Meanwhile, book 4 is a mystery! Literally and metaphorically.