LEBANON — Miranda is a princess and she lives in a castle, but as the first volume of the “Miranda and Maude” series opens, the princess is on her way to a public school that seems like any other public school and she is being treated like just another new student. This juxtaposition comes off as deadpan humor to an adult reader, but to a 7 year old this doesn't seem the least bit odd. In fact, it sounds like a story a 7 year old might tell.
Author Emma Wunsch of Lebanon has never been into fantasy or science fiction, so any children's book that she writes is not going to include magic, dwarves, or medieval technology.
“When my oldest was 3 she was really into the Disney princesses,” said Wunsch, “so I made up Miranda Rose as a bedtime story. I needed conflict, so I created Maude, who is Miranda's opposite.” The Miranda and Maude stories became part of long car trips and other storytelling opportunities in her family. She was telling them out loud in her husband's presence, so they became filled with jokes that he could appreciate, even if they went by their daughters.
Wunsch was already the author of a young adult (YA) novel called “The Movie Version.” Aimed at teenagers, the story was heavy and dealt with mental illness; it was not appropriate for her children to read. But when she began thinking about writing a “chapter book,” which is aimed at 7 to 10 year olds, she wanted it to take place in reality.
“They [young children] are in the world,” she said. “They hear about job loss, mental illness. When I was a kid, I read Judy Blume books; she wrote about real things.”
Wunsch is not enamored of a lot of modern children's books, but she and her daughter listened to the Jeanne Birdsall's Penderwicks books together and liked them. She decided she wanted to write a book that children would enjoy, but that would also amuse parents. So, having written something that amused her, she hired a child reader to sit down with Miranda and Maude to make sure that a child would also find it to be fun.
A visit to the children's section of a bookstore reveals that writing a series is a popular approach for chapter books, young reader (middle school-age) stories, and YA novels. Wunsch quickly realized that the Miranda and Maude stories lent themselves well to this approach. Volume 1, “The Princess and the Absolutely Not a Princess” appeared in early August, and volume 2 will be published in February 2019. Wunsch has volume 3 in draft form, but has no idea how long the series will carry on.
Chapter books are illustrated and it is unusual in this day and age for writers to do the illustrations. Publishers prefer to pair up authors with a known artist. Wunsch made extensive notes in the manuscript of the first Miranda and Maude story that suggested how to present the girls and their world, but it was the idea of her collaborator Jessika von Innerebner, an artist from Kelowna, British Columbia in Canada, to make Miranda a person of color.
This addition delighted Wunsch. She had constructed Miranda and Maude's world carefully. “The story is not set in a particular place or time,” she said. “Initially the candy they ate was Skittles, but I changed it to Rainbow Sweeties, so not even the candy name is real.” In addition, all of the real people referred to — most of whom are heroes of the politically progressive Maude — are dead.
Wunsch has wanted to be a writer since she was a child — her mother is a writer — and was one of those kids making her own books with purple crayon. She attended Binghamton University in upstate New York, where she majored in literature and film studies, and then moved to Seattle where she worked in a bookstore. In 2001 she moved back to her native New York City, settling in Brooklyn where she earned her MFA at Brooklyn College.
She had been getting short stories published, but she put her writing on the back burner while her children were babies and toddlers. Eight years ago she got serious about writing again and found a publisher for her debut YA novel. “Publishing moves slowly and it's a crapshoot,” she said. “So, I just keep writing and I don't wait for a reaction.”
“The Princesss and the Absolutely Not a Princess” is published by Amulet Books.