Kitchen Table Chat with Jessica Lawson, author of The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher (Part 1)

Today, help me welcome Jessica Lawson, author of the newly-released (and just-as-good-as-it-sounds) The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher. Instead of a traditional interview, we sat down at our keyboards for a virtual "kitchen table chat" so we could get to know each other better in a more relaxed way. (I think Becky Thatcher would approve.) I hope you'll stay and join the conversation in the comments--and help yourself to some iced tea or lemonade while you're here! :)

Faith: Welcome, Jessica! Pull up a virtual chair--have some lemonade and a snickerdoodle. I just started reading The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher this past weekend, and I'm kind of in love. Well, that's not entirely true; only the second part is. I really started reading it two or three years ago when I read an earlier draft of Chapter One that you posted at WriteOnCon, and thought it was the best thing I'd read the whole conference. Becky's voice is so clear and unique, and the setting pulled me right in--not to mention I'd jump at anything related to Mark Twain like the celebrated jumping frog might. It's stuck with me ever since, and that doesn't happen often with things I read that long ago. How did you happen to start writing Becky's story?

Jessica: Thank you so much for your kind words about the book (and thank you for the lemonade and snickerdoodles~ I took three, hope you don't mind). I can't believe you remember the excerpt from WriteOnCon!
I got the idea for the story years ago while doing a bad job of dusting my bookshelves. I was reading the spines of our books and my eyes fell on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, one of my favorites. It's one of those books that fills me with a yearning for my childhood. I was fortunate enough to have a particularly golden time between the ages of 6 and 12: lots of time outside, a friendly/safe neighborhood, lots of love, and lots of encouragement for independent and creative activities. After the age of 12 or so, my peers started to develop crushes and started to care about things that I just wasn't ready to care about. I honestly think that when everyone started "growing up," it kind of broke my heart. Maybe that's the reason that the "love story" part of Twain's book didn't resonate with me quite as much as the relationship between Tom and Huck. I remember thinking that if I were Becky, I'd want to join in the adventuring fun, too. And I think that idea stuck with me and that's how it happened to pop into my head on that particular dusting day. I remember making some very brief notes and then letting the idea sit for quite a long time before I got around to writing the story.

Oh, look at that, it's after lunch and I didn't even offer you any homemade pizza (East Coast style since my hubby's from Philadelphia). What kind of toppings do you like? :)

Faith: While dusting! Proof that being a writer and being a homemaker are complimentary vocations. I've had some great ideas while washing dishes or gardening...maybe I need to actually, um, dust a little more often. :)
I think what you just described is part of the reason I do remember your excerpt and identified with it so strongly. When I was a kid, I was a lot like your version of Becky Thatcher. (Just ask my poor mother.) I got into trouble a lot, ran away from home (all the way down the street) a few times, and gave my big brother the only black eye he ever had. I also had this old, Fisher Price cassette tape dramatization of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer that I listened to almost every night. I wanted tobe Becky--but in my daydreams, Becky ended up with a little more role in saving the day. I cried when that tape snapped from overuse--and read the book a few times to comfort myself.
While we're on the topic of favorite childhood things, what were some of the other books you loved as a kid?
(Oh, and I'll definitely take a slice of pizza; I'm fond of ham and pineapple or jalepenos.)

Jessica: Wowza, sounds like you kept your mom busy! I never ran away, but I went through a phase where I hid a lot when I was 5 or 6. One time the babysitter had to call my parents because she and my sisters couldn't find me~ I was tucked in the back of my parent's closet, chuckling away. That poor babysitter. I love that you listened to a cassette of Tom Sawyer! We had a Fisher Price record player and I used to listen to Dr. Seuss stories on it.

Favorite books of my childhood (other than The Adventures of Tom Sawyer) were Katie John, The Boxcar Children, All-of-a-Kind Family (extreme love for that family), The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, The Chronicles of Narnia, Where the Red Fern Grows, The Hobbit, The Sign of the Beaver, My Side of the Mountain (and its sequel), and anything by Roald Dahl (I cried as a 10-year-old when I found out that he died because there would be no more Roald Dahl books). And, of course, Little Women and Anne of Green Gables. How about you?

Faith: I don't think I've ever talked to anyone before who had heard of Katie John! I loved those books; as a matter of fact, I just started reading the first to my daughters, and they proceeded to explore our entire house looking for secret passageways or hiding spots under the stairs. Nothing so interesting as Aunt Emily's dumb waiter turned up, but they did decide to turn the cupboard under the stairs into a playhouse. Now that I think of it, your Becky reminds me a bit of Katie John. Character inspiration?
We must have had very similar childhood reading experiences--I read and loved all the books you listed except All-of-a-Kind Family, which I've been meaning to read for a few months now. Did you ever read the Betsy-Tacy books? I loved those. One of my favorite things, too, was to discover other books by my favorite authors. I always liked Rose in Bloom the best of Louisa May Alcott's books, and as much as I am strictly devoted to Anne, I thought the Pat and Emily series were amazing.
I'm curious now; many of the books you listed feature large families, and Becky's love for her brother is a major theme in your book. Do you have siblings and were you close to them? I have kind of a theory that just like romance is often at the heart of a good YA story, family relationships are a big factor in meaningful, satisfying MG books.

Jessica: I love that theory! Yes, Becky's love for her brother and the way she and her family process his loss is a major theme of the book. The brother character, Jon, was named after my own brother-in-law who passed away shortly before I started to sit down and actually write the story I'd been thinking about. Becky's brother is the reason she wears overalls and loves adventure--she admired him above all others and he influenced her heavily, as older siblings tend to do.

I have two older sisters who I was very close to while growing up. I admired them so much and still do. They were my role models for  school and sports and I'm sure that, as the youngest, I annoyed them to no end. We're still close, though they live states away and we only get to see each other once a year or so. I wish we all lived closer.

I haven't read the Betsy-Tacy books; I'll have to check them out! And yes, the dumbwaiter in Katie John! I also liked when they accidentally put powdered dish/laundry detergent in the lemonade by mistake :)

Faith: The whole detergent in the lemonade reminds me of when a friend of mine made banana bread with powdered sugar instead of flour...just a little less edible. :)
(There's plenty more fun--and some ice cream--to this conversation, so stop back Wednesday for Part 2!)


  1. Why, I'll pull up a chair and have some iced tea with you both. Oh, this sounds like a PERFECT book for my daughter, who is 13, and quite a bit like Tom Sawyer, and if you asked me has deep feelings for her brother as well ...

    I loved this interview because it brought back some of my old book loves and memories of carefree days in my own childhood. And I never did see the point of growing up too fast ... and a part of me realizes that I write for children because at heart I am still one.

    It is lovely to meet you and I look forward to meeting Becky.

    1. I think you both will really enjoy it, Vijaya!

      Your second paragraph, second sentence: yep.

  2. Oh, pizza and skickerdoodles! You guys must have known I was coming. :D I love that you guys read so many of my favorite books! Hearing them listed makes me want to dig them out and read them again. But first I'll have to pick up Becky's actual true adventures! This book has been popping up onto my radar for a while now, and you guys have given me the nudge to get it read already! lol

    Great interview, and happy MMGM!


    1. I can't wait to hear what you think about it, Suzanne!

  3. Sounds like a really fun book. Thanks for passing it on.

  4. This one caught my interest a while back when I first heard the title. Thanks for the insightful interview.

    1. You're welcome, Greg--yes, isn't the title great?

  5. My comments keep getting eaten up like snickerdoodles~ I'll try one more time :) Just wanted to say thanks for having me over for a chat :)

    1. Oh, no, I'm going to have to check that comment issue; I'm sorry! I bet they were as delicious as snickerdoodles, too.
      You are so welcome; I had a blast talking with you and getting to know you better. Any time you want some real snickerdoodles and lemonade, stop by CT. :)

  6. You all are giving me TONS of ideas for summer reads for my daughter. She loves adventure stories with strong female protagonists. And at 11, she also doesn't like romance or "swoony stuff." LOL.

  7. Not sure what I'm loving more--hearing about your childhoods or the great reading suggestions for my 11-yo daughter, who loves adventures free of "swoony stuff."

    1. I'm glad we could be of help with the summer reading suggestions! :) The only thing swoony about this book is how great the writing is...I'm kind of in love with THAT. :)

  8. This sounds really good. Oh, and *I* heard of Katie John! :)


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