Editor’s Note: This exchange is part of a series of brief interviews with emerging writers of recent or forthcoming books. If you enjoyed it, please visit other interviews in the I’ve Got Questions feature.
- What’s the title of your book? Fiction? Nonfiction? Poetry? Who is the publisher and what’s the publication date?
CATCH ME WHEN I FALL (Fitzroy Books, 2019) is middle-grade historical fiction.
- In a couple of sentences, what’s the book about?
Set in Racine, Wisconsin during the Great Depression, Catch Me When I Fall is the story of one gutsy twelve-year-old girl’s quest to learn the identity of her father, the father her mother refuses to talk about. When Emma finds a photograph hidden in her mother’s bureau AND spots a circus poster featuring Filippo the Flying Wonder, she believes she’s stumbled on the truth. The aerialist’s resemblance to the man in the secret photo is too close to be coincidence. Rebelling against her Mother’s warning not to go near the circus, Emma disguises herself as a boy and lands a job with the circus, determined to unravel the dark mystery that haunts her. It is here, amidst the sawdust and illusions of circus life, that Emma makes discoveries about her past that ultimately help her accept herself for who she truly is.
- What’s the book’s genre (for fiction and nonfiction) or primary style (for poetry)?
Middle grade mystery, adventure, historical fiction
- What’s the nicest thing anyone has said about the book so far?
That is hard to narrow down, but here are two, one from a school librarian and the other from a professor of adolescent literature. “Emma’s adventure breathes with life as she enters a vibrant circus culture filled with people and animals wrought with such detail that they’re rendered unforgettable.” “Bonnie Graves masterfully creates an indelible heroine in Emma Monroe, a plucky twelve-year-old with a backstory that will break your heart and a sense of humor and adventure that will make you giggle.”
- What book or books is yours comparable to or a cross between? [Is your book like Moby Dick or maybe it’s more like Frankenstein meets Peter Pan?]
Ann of Green Gables meets Water for Elephants
- Why this book? Why now?
I began writing this book many years before it was finally published. The initial spark of the idea for Catch Me When I Fall came from an uncle’s memoir about his experiences as a young boy watering the elephants for a traveling circus in hopes of earning a ticket to the Big Show. The anecdote was so rich in detail and humor it just begged to become a story for young readers. I didn’t feel I could write it from a boy’s point of view, the way my uncle had, so I needed a heroine, someone brave enough to dress as a boy to get a circus job, someone who desperately needed that circus job. That someone turned out to be 12-year-old Emma Monroe, a fearless red-head, who’s determined to learn the identity of her father, the man her mother refuses to talk about.
Why now? In order to continue shattering that glass ceiling, girls need to see themselves in stories acting with courage and conviction, breaking through accepted norms and boundaries when necessary to achieve a worthwhile goal. Catch Me When I Fall may have taken place in the 1930s, but Emma’s story of determination and courage is still relevant today.
- Other than writing this book, what’s the best job you’ve ever had?
Oh, that’s a hard one. My first job was working at Disneyland in Anaheim, CA. How I loved strolling down Mainstreet in the Magic Kingdom to begin work, smelling the popcorn and cotton candy, spying the Matterhorn and hearing the delighted shrieks from the bobsled riders, walking through Cinderella’s castle while the refrains of When You Wish Upon a Star trickled from hidden speakers. My second dream job was being a teacher of third graders at a small primary school in Mountain View, CA. What a joy it was to be greeted every school day morning by those bright and eager faces.
- What do you want readers to take away from the book?
That is a good, and also difficult, question. I want them, first and foremost, to be so engrossed in Emma’s story that they feel as if they are living her story with her, to understand and empathize with her motivations and actions, to come to realize that life and relationships are complicated, but that love and family, in the end, are what matter most, no matter who may comprise that family.
- What food and/or music do you associate with the book?
Hot dogs, popcorn, cotton candy and music from the calliope!
- What book(s) are you reading currently?
Right now, I’m reading Trials of the Earth, a memoir by Mary Mann Hamilton, pioneer of the American south, a story of unimaginable hardship and amazing perseverance. Next, I think I’ll move on to something a bit lighter, a book recommended recently by my 8-year-old grandson—The Candy Makers by Wendy Mass. It sounds delicious!
Learn more about Bonnie at her Facebook Page.
What an engaging interview! Having read this gem myself and having a granddaughter who adored it, I can vouch wholeheartedly for the excitement and challenges and encouragement that young readers will find among its pages. Great questions, Cliff, and great answers, Bonnie—thank you!
What an engaging and lively interview—thank you, Bonnie and Cliff, for these delightful insights into a wonderful middle grade novelist’s life and writing process. Having read this gem myself and discussing it with my granddaughter who loved it, as well, I can wholeheartedly recommend it for young readers!
Thanks so much, Margo, for your heartwarming comments and for sharing Catch Me When I Fall with your granddaughter!
What a great and enjoyable interview of this wonderful author! Bonnie Graves does, indeed, bring the story of Emma to life with her storytelling that brings the circus and circus folk to life. I personally enjoyed reading the book and learning so much about the traveling circuses of times past, and my two granddaughters loved reading it, too. As young teenagers of today, I hope that my granddaughters feel inspired by Emma and her strength to discover her story, regardless of the obstacles others put in front of her. Bravo, Ms. Graves, for penning a wonderful book! Any new books/stories in store for us soon? I hope so!
Mary, I was so delighted to read your comments here and to learn your granddaughters also read and enjoyed Catch Me When I Fall. Honestly, you made my day and gave me courage to start a new book project. Thank you!
I appreciate this interview. Thank you! I have read CATCH ME WHEN I FALL and enjoyed it very much! Emma is an engaging and unforgettable heroine. Emma faces many challenges with strength and daring.
Any reader will be entertained and inspired by her journey to try to find the truth about her father and ultimately about herself. The book is an intriguing and satisfying read for any age. Congratulations Bonnie.
JoAnn, how thoughtful of you to post this wonderful comment on Catch Me When I Fall. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for taking the time to let me know!
Other readers have commented on Emma’s plucky courage in her search for her father. What I also found interesting about Emma is the pathos of her situation: her father is the “elephant in the dining room”–the family secret no one will discuss. While “Catch Me When I Fall” takes place during the American Depression, it surely resonates with young girls today who dream of their missing fathers and struggle to understand complex family histories and their mothers’ puzzling refusal to explain why Dad’s absence is a situation no one will explain.
Emma’s mother’s wish to protect her daughter from pain is understandable, as is Emma’s steadfast resolve to solve the mystery, given her spirit and resourcefulness. While Emma’s story of her struggle and her subsequent “fall” suggest much about her determination, the plot also anticipates the exceptional woman Emma will become.
There is more to the story, however. When Emma’s mother “catches” her daughter, she also learns vital maternal lessons: painful secrets will eventually emerge; daughters must find their own way, try and sometimes fail, and through failures and victories develop adult grit and success. Thus, the new bond Emma and her mother develop at the end of the story is truly sweet and moving. This Mother/Daughter psychological conflict and ultimate resolution are beautifully probed and powerfully dramatized by Bonnie Graves. “Catch Me When I Fall” is a book for both daughters–and mothers.
Carol, your comments are so perceptive and insightful! I am thinking you must be a student of literature and a writer yourself. I can’t thank you enough for your kind words about this story and for taking the time to pen your discerning analysis of Emma’s character and the mother/daughter relationship and to share it here. Thank you!