Saturday, January 5, 2013

American Girls' 2013 Girl of the Year, Saige Copeland -- Interview with the Author, Jessie Haas


Last week I shared the news that Saige Copeland is American Girl's, "2013 Girl of the Year."  If you missed my post about Saige, click here -- -- to read it now.  Today, I am excited to share my interview with Jessie Haas, author of the 2013 Girl of the Year Books, Saige and Saige Paints the Sky

I was lucky enough to be sent an advanced copy of Saige to read over the the Christmas holiday.  Each evening my daughter and two nieces would snuggle up on the couch with their American Girl dolls that Santa had surprised them with last year, as I read them the story of Saige Copeland, a forth grader who has to deal with a lot -- from growing apart from her best friend, to having one of her favorite subjects in school cut, art.  What is a girl to do? With a push from her Grandma Mimi, Saige takes it upon herself to start a fundraiser parade to help save the arts in her school.  Saige begins to train Mimi's horse, Picasso, as she wants to ride the horse in her fundraising parade. But, like they say, things happen in threes, and Saige's Grandma Mimi is injured in an accident. 

Saige now has a lot on her plate for a forth graders.  She has to deal with losing a best friends, not being able to take an art class in school, and now her Grandma is not well.  Will she be able to have a successful "Save the Arts" fundraising parade with Picasso trained in time? And, will she raise enough money to keep the art program in her school, all while making her Grandma Mimi proud?  I am not going to spoil the ending for you and your children.  You will just have to pick up a copy of Saige to find out for yourself. :-)  But, I will say that this book, which is geared towards girls ages 8+, and is available in both paperback and hardcover book, will surely delight American Girl fans.  My two nieces couldn't wait for me to finish reading the story to them, to see what happened.  And, as we read the story of Saige Copeland, they couldn't help but cheer her on, and hope that the fundraising parade would be a success.

We can't wait to pick up a copy of Saige Paints the Sky, also written by Jessie Haas, that continues with the story, and has Grandma Mimi moving into a rehab to help heal her broken leg.  But, in the meantime, we are enjoying the Express Yourself: Use Art to Explore the Emotions Inside You! by Emma MacLaren Henke, which retails for only $9.99 and is now available wherever books are sold, as well as through the American Girl catalogue, at and at the American Girl retail stores -- as is the Saige books, doll and accessories.  This is a great paperback compilation to the Saige books, as it helps young girls explore their feelings through art, by asking them questions, having them take quizzes and draw their own artistic pieces to show how they are feeling.  What a great way to get girls excited about art, and to offer them another outlet when they are feeling overwhelmed, like Saige was.

But, before you head to your local American Girl retail store or over to, please enjoy my interview with Jessie Haas, author of the 2013 Girl of the Year Books, Saige and Saige Paints the Sky.

-- Author Interview with Jessie Haas --

Tell me about your book. How did you come up with that (story, angle, idea)?  

Saige Copeland is a fourth grader from Albuquerque; her father is an airplane pilot and hot air balloon enthusiast, her mother a college math professor. Her grandmother, Mimi, lives on the outskirts of the city on a ranchita where she raises horses and is a well-known painter; Saige spends most afternoons there, riding and painting, which is her passion. Unfortunately, her school won't have art classes this year. Albuquerque schools alternate between art and music classes and this is a music year—great for Saige's best friend, who's a music lover, horrible for Saige. Saige gets involved with a fundraiser Mimi's organizing to raise money for an after school art program, but then Mimi is hurt in an accident. Suddenly Saige has to cope with helping take care of Mimi's animals and trying to keep the fundraiser on track, all the while coping with changes in her friendships. Saige ends with the fundraiser; Saige rides in the parade, puts on a show with Mimi's clever horse Picasso, who she's taught to paint, and best of all, sees Mimi out of the hospital for the first time, approving of it all.

In Saige Paints the Sky, Saige is frustrated that the art classes have yet to start. Mimi has gone into a rehab facility to regain her strength, and the afternoons are rather barren. Mimi encourages her to begin riding the young horse Georgia, and after Saige finds a disused art room at the rehab facility, she and Mimi are able to start painting together again. But kids at her school are still missing art. Encouraged by Mimi, Saige and her friends organize a protest, Day of Beige, to demonstrate how not having art makes them feel. Saige carries through though her heart is heavy; Mimi keeps talking about Georgia needing a new owner, and Saige has fallen in love with the young horse. The story ends during International Balloon Fiesta, Albuquerque's annual hot air balloon extravaganza, with Mimi well enough to take a balloon ride to help celebrate Saige's birthday. The winds take them over Mimi's horse pasture where, with Georgia galloping below, Saige receives the best possible birthday present.

Girls (and their moms) love horses, and saving art programs in the schools is a big issue with them, according to polling that American Girl has done. When the American Girl editorial team had chosen those themes for 2013, they looked for someone who writes well about animals. They had several of my previous books in their library, and they asked me if I'd be interested. I loved the themes, and the idea of setting the story in Albuquerque; I've had a long-distance love affair with New Mexico for many years. Within that framework I had all kinds of artistic freedom and a lot of support to work out the story. I was especially thrilled to be able to include quite a bit about animal training, one of my passions. Saige's horse, you'll notice if you check the American Girl catalog, comes with a clicker, part of the equipment Saige uses to train the horse Picasso to paint.

How did you get interested in writing this particular genre?  

I grew up reading horse books and riding, and in college set out to write a horse story based on the difference between those two experiences. In the books, the young riders were always fabulously talented and triumphed over the horse and all circumstances. In real life, I was moderately talented and nine times out of ten the horse triumphed over me—which built all kinds of character, I hasten to add! 

Keeping Barney, that first book, was accepted for publication a month before I graduated from Wellesley. I've been writing for children ever since, frequently horse stories. My emphasis has changed a little as I've learned about clicker training, which Saige uses with Picasso. With clicker training I win much more often, and my horse and I always have fun; I love being able to include in stories the kind of communication that clicker training allows between human and animal.

Do you have any favorite authors or favorite books? 
I'm a huge fan of Terry Pratchett; Laura Ingalls Wilder; Walter Farley; Marguerite Henry; and there are lots of others I can't remember at the moment.

What's a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write? Do you set a daily writing goal? 

Coffee and breakfast; down to the farm I grew up on, next door, to feed horses and check email; home where I theoretically work, actually knit, listen to the radio, play with cats until something percolates to the surface and I take out my netbook computer and finally start working. Lunch, nap, tea, feed horses again, and in the evening I usually do some more work. I used to believe that I had to work in the morning, and if I didn't my whole day was shot. These days, I know I can work anytime and in any circumstances, which takes a lot of the angst out of it.

What is the hardest part of writing for you?  

In warmer months I work in my tiny (5' x 7') writing room. In winter I tend to sit right beside the woodstove—and as I said, at all hours. I don't set a daily goal. Usually I go over work I did the day before, revising it to make it feel more alive, and to allow myself to live inside the story and be the characters. If I get beyond where I got yesterday, that's a good day. Sometimes I get stuck in a revising loop, and then I'll set myself a goal of blasting out a few bad pages. The next day I'll be offended by how awful that writing is, and that will get me going again. The hardest part for me is plotting, and I never outline. For these books I needed to do that, and I was thrilled to discover that I could.

What’s the best thing about being an author?  

Writing is the best part. I love it, I get better all the time (and after 35 books, I'd better!) and it's just a pleasure to do that; I think writing is as much fun as reading, and for me that's saying a lot.

I also love it when I hear that a book of mine--nowadays probably Bramble and Maggie: Horse Meets Girl has been the first book a child has read all by her or himself. I do love seeing beat-up copies of my books on library shelves, and I love the variety of things I get to do.

Last year I wrote a Bramble and Maggie book, finished a 500+ page history of my home town (Westminster, Vt., 1735-2000: Township Number One), did the text for a pamphlet warning consumers about rent-to-own issues, and finished the Saige books. I've written a book on safety with horses that was a first of its kind, and Horse Crazy!, which contains horse history, lore, sports, crafts, book, and movie reviews, and a ton of other fun things concerning horses. And I've written a world history of horses told through poems (Hoofprints.) No day is the same, and no book is the same.

The other best things: It's my job to ride, play with, and obsess about horses. I don't have to dress up or commute. And the naps. We'd have a better, saner world if everyone could take an afternoon nap every day.

What are you working on now?  
"The Genghis Girl," a YA novel about a girl whose parents have sold their Vermont granola company for a ton of money. They are suddenly rich, and our heroine has come to realize that her brother is trying to kill her, to double his inheritance. Lin was adopted from China, but believes she's actually a Mongol, perhaps descended from Genghis Khan. His example inspires her in both positive and negative ways as she deals with this terrifying problem. At this moment in the story, she's taken to the hills on a horse she rescued from an auction (a horse very much like my horse!) and is about to get into even worse trouble.

What advice would you give aspiring writers?  

Read, and write. And read and write. A lot of people go to MFA programs, but I don't think that's necessary. What is necessary is to get a ton of practice, which means revision. Find a group of people to read your story aloud to; a good critique group can be very helpful. And really absorb the truth that writing is about revising; a  piece of writing is never perfect the first time and doesn't have to be, because it isn't done until it's done.

What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview? How would you answer that question?  

That's a good question! I wish I had a good answer, but I truly don't. What I love about interviews is how an unexpected question sparks me to say something I didn't even know I knew or thought. I'll be listening to myself going: Cool! That's interesting. Where did that come from

To learn more about author, Jessie Haas, please visit her website:

About American Girl
American Girl Brands is a wholly owned subsidiary of Mattel, (NASDAQ:MAT,, the world’s leading toy company. Since American Girl’s inception in 1986, the company has devoted its entire business to celebrating the potential of girls ages 3 to 12. American Girl encourages girls to dream, to grow, to aspire, to create, and to imagine through a wide range of engaging and insightful books, age-appropriate and educational products, and unforgettable experiences. In meeting its mission with a vigilant eye toward quality and service, American Girl has earned the loyal following of millions of girls and the praise and trust of parents and educators. To learn more about American Girl or to request a free catalogue, call 1-800-845-0005, or visit

About Americans for the Arts
For more than 50 years, Americans for the Arts has led the national effort to ensure that every American has an opportunity to participate in and appreciate all forms of the arts. Championing the cause of the arts and arts education in communities across the country, the organization dedicates itself each year to providing programs that help foster an environment in which the arts can thrive and contribute to the creation of more livable communities; generate more resources to support arts and arts education; and build individual appreciation of the value of the arts. From their offices in Washington, D.C. and New York City, they proudly serve more than 150,000 members and stakeholders annually. Learn more at or by calling (202) 371-2830.
Disclosure: I was sent samples from the vendor in order to write up an honest review.  The views above are mine and mine alone.

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