Editor’s note: Listen Up is a Q&A featuring locals in the arts and culture community.
This week: Emily Anderson, Eau Claire City Council member, discusses her young-adult novel, “Fifteen and Change.” She’s holding a joint book release with Diane Kaufmann at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Plus, 208 S. Barstow St.
What compelled you to write a young-adult novel?
I was approached by the publisher who was looking for young-adult novels that engaged readers at a high interest, low reading level, designed to engage kids who might be in high school and struggling with reading.
What is “Fifteen and Change” about?
This book is about a boy who is 15 and gets involved with the “Fight for 15” labor movement through some folks he knows at his after-school job at a pizza place.
How did you come up with that idea?
I was thinking about social issues that were important to me, and one of the things I’ve learned — whether I was knocking on doors for candidates or knocking on doors for myself — most people can agree on is that if you work full time you should be able to support your family.
That’s just not happening right now. It’s something I’ve personally experienced and seen friends experience; you can work and work and never get ahead.
Living wages are so important for our communities and the health of individuals and families, especially for kids.
Over 40 percent of kids in schools are experiencing poverty and low income at home and a big part of that is because wages aren’t high enough.
These are issues that are so important to talk about, and I really wanted to give a human face to those issues and also show how individauls can get involved and make a difference.
Why did you use a pen name?
I use the Max Howard pen name to distinguish between writing for adults and kids.
My one grandpa was Max Simmons; my other is Howard Anderson, so I became Max Howard.
How would you describe the writing process?
It was a really interesting writing process because one of the constraints I was working with was that it needed to be written at a second-grade reading level and also needed to be written in poems, each about 50 words long.
Kind of like writing a novel in tweets, which was really fun but definitely forced my brain to think in a different way.
How do you hope it connects with readers?
My biggest hope is that I wrote a book that students enjoy reading. My hope is that you can still enjoy literature, even if reading isn’t something you feel good at.
My other hope is that students realize their actions can make a difference and think about the fact that things in the world aren’t just the way they are — they are that way for a reason, which means they can change and become different, and students can be a part of that change.
What will the book release entail?
I wanted to have a party to celebrate the book coming out.
My friend Diane (Kaufmann) wrote a children’s picture book about Malawi, a country really close to south Africa. Diane was for many years a liaison between the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) in Wisconsin and their partner churches in Malawi. She spent a lot of time there, and I actually got to go on a trip with her.
I was thrilled to see her create this book for kids about kids in Malawi. It’s a fantastic book because it can give kids here a glimpse into another culture and another country. The message to me is even though lifestyles are really different, there is as much beauty, humanity and dignity in another country as there is in our own.
Who would you recommend “Fifteen and Change” to?
It’s technically recommended for 12- to 18-year-olds, but because it’s a lower reading level, students in elementary school who are curious about social change could also access it. It’s pretty open.
Would you write another young adult novel?
Yes, I definitely would. I’m in conversations with my publisher about that possibility so we’ll see what happens next. I found it really fun to write for a new audience.
What’s next for you?
I’m scheduled to do a school visit and author workshop at a high school in Maine, and one thing I’m looking forward to doing in the future is teaching workshops to high school-age kids or adults who are interested in writing young-adult literature.
— Katy Macek