When you daughter starts proclaiming this new series she is reading (Fix-It Friends) her new favorite, you know you have to track down the fabulous author that made such a thing happen to speak to her. When you also realize that this series has opened up a dialog between you and your daughter on how things are going in her life, you know speaking to the author has now become a goal of yours. Nicole C. Kear was gracious enough to spend some times answering some questions from all of us on her books and her life.
A native of New York, she received a BA from Yale, a MA from Columbia, and a red nose from the San Francisco School of Circus Arts. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, three children and two aquatic frogs.
BSCKids: What led you to start writing the Fix-It Friends Series?
Nicole Caccavo Kear: I’m a mom to three kids – aged 6, 11 and 13. Over the years, I’ve seen my own kids and their friends grapple with issues like teasing, worry, attention troubles, friendship troubles, and plenty more, but I didn’t often find these issues tackled in a significant way in the chapter books they were reading. I wanted to write a series of books for young kids that featured characters struggling with these common issues for a few reasons. First, I wanted readers struggling with these challenges to know they aren’t alone. Second, I wanted readers who don’t struggle with these things to build empathy for their friends and siblings and classmates. And more than anything, I wanted to write books with fun, dynamic characters that made kids laugh out loud.
BSCKids: How does it feel writing books that help kids through problems? It has really opened up dialog between kids and parents, was that one of your intentions with the series?
Nicole Caccavo Kear: It feels spectacular! I am a big believer in the power of literature to make a real difference in people’s lives and I think this is even more true when it comes to literature for children. I remember with striking clarity many of my favorite books from childhood — they are more important to me than anything I’ve read since, really. It fills me with pride and joy to think that I could make that kind of a positive impact in the lives of my young readers. I did want to spark dialogue, yes. I wanted to give kids and parents both the vocabulary, and the opportunity, to talk about these tricky subjects. I’m thrilled to hear it’s working.
BSCKids: Do you get asked to speak at school often? What is your best story from a talk you have given?
Nicole Caccavo Kear: I do tons of author visits at schools all over. Talking to students is one of my favorite parts about writing for children. I talk to kids as young as Kindergarteners, and as old as fifth graders and every time I visit a school, there’s always something which surprises and delights me. I talk to kids about facing fears, and they are always so eager to tell me what they’re scared of (and in some cases what their parents are scared of, too – which cracks me up). The questions are always the best part of my visits. Kids ask really hilarious things that are sometimes out of left field. In one of my very first visits, a student asked me, point blank: “Are you famous?” That threw me for a bit of a loop. How does one answer such a question? Recently, a kid asked me if I was British, which was a first (I’m from Brooklyn).
BSCKids: What is the question you get asked the most about the series?
Nicole Caccavo Kear: I always, always, always get asked what Jude’s middle name is (I’m sworn to secrecy and can’t tell).
BSCKids: How did you come up with the characters? Are they based off of people you know?
Nicole Caccavo Kear: Absolutely. As my children will tell you, I modeled the Conti kids on them. Jude is very similar to my son, the oldest, Veronica is heavily inspired by my middle daughter and Pearl, the baby of the family, is a lot like my littlest daughter. When my kids read the books, they pointed out discrepancies between the characters and them, and I had to remind them it was fiction, not memoir! For the supporting characters, I drew heavily upon my kids’ friends — taking character traits from one, combining that with quirks of another to make Ezra, Cora, and the rest of the gang. Some characters are just totally invented – like Little Nicky. I don’t know any kids that naughty. 🙂
BSCKids: How closely do you work with the artists on the books? Can you explain the process?
Nicole Caccavo Kear: I absolutely adore my illustrator, Tracy Dockray. When I found out she’d be illustrating The Fix-It Friends, I felt like I’d hit the jackpot. I read the Ramona Quimby series to my kids and the books I read to them were illustrated by Tracy! She is such a talented artist, and brings such beautiful, and very real emotion to the characters. Many of her pictures make me laugh and others almost being me to tears, because they capture something so true about being a human. All of which is to say, I pretty much loved everything she did and had almost no adjustments I wanted to make.
BSCKids: How long does it normally take to complete a Fix-It Friends book?
Nicole Caccavo Kear: It takes me about four months to write a first draft and then a month or two to revise and then of course there’s lots more stuff that has to be done by other folks — copy edits and the illustrations. It also took a while to write the “Just For Kids” section in the back of each book – I had to locate the right experts, interview them, interview kids with relevant experiences and then put it all together in a way that’s fun for kids to read.
BSCKids: For children that are looking to write their own stories and become authors, what advice would you give them?
Nicole Caccavo Kear: Write! Write every day. Experiment with different kids of stories and different kinds of characters. Keep writing even when it gets boring (sometimes it gets boring). And, just as important, read! Read and read and read some more. Nothing teaches you more about writing than reading.
BSCKids: What were some of your favorite books growing up?
Nicole Caccavo Kear: The Ramona series by Beverly Cleary was my all-time favorite series, which is what made it such an honor to have Tracy, who illustrated the Ramona series, to work on The Fix-It Friends. I also loved Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the SuperFudge series by Jude Blume. But I liked the older classics too, like Little Women. Oh, how I loved Little Women, all of them — Jo and Amy and Meg and of course Beth. I loved The Little Princess, too, really profoundly, and the Little House series, in a different way. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was the first book that made me cry. I can still remember exactly where I was when I discovered (spoiler alert) that Aslan died. Those are just a few — I could write a whole book about my favorite childhood books.
BSCKids: If there was going to be a special one-time cartoon of the Fix-It Series which book would you pick and why?
Nicole Caccavo Kear: Wish You Were Here, book number four. I just really love Little Nicky and I think he’d be so fun onscreen. I also think the sub-plotl of Pearl losing Ricardo is so fun– Pearl and Ricardo are two of my favorite characters!
BSCKids: Is there anything coming up you can tell us about in terms of new books or series you are working on?
Nicole Caccavo Kear: I’m working on a middle grade novel now which I am having such a blast writing. It’s for slightly older kids, and that’s a new experience for me. The Fix-It Friends was inspired heavily by my daughter and this one was inspired by son, who’s finishing middle school. It’s a book about growing up, and about how that’s sometimes hard to do.
Thanks so much!
Special thanks again to Nicole and we look forward to the next Fix-It Friends books in the series!