Monday, October 8, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Flying the Dragon and Interview with Natalie Dias Lorenzi

Today I have the pleasure of highlighting Flying the Dragon by Natalie Dias Lorenzi. I found this book when Natalie commented on one of my MMGM posts and I went over to visit her site. And WOW! she had recently published a book. A real live author had made a comment on my blog! Well I had a big pile of books I was planning to read but I moved Natalie's up to the top of my pile and absolutely loved it.
Book Description: Skye and Hiroshi have never met. How could they, when Skye’s father hasn’t spoken to his Japanese family since before she was born? But now their grandfather is sick, and the family is coming to the US for his treatment. Skye and Hiroshi are stuck with each other.

Now Skye doesn’t know who she is anymore; at school, she’s suddenly too Japanese, but at home she isn’t Japanese enough. And as Hiroshi struggles to improve his English, he has to contend with Skye butting in on his rokkaku kite-flying time with Grandfather–time that seems to be running out.

Why it is Marvelous: I love the characters in this story and how they grow and learn from each other. I especially love that the main characters are all family. Although strangers at first, Skye and Hiroshi are forced to help each other. While neither likes the situation they both find ways to cope and start to see the world through the other's eyes. Through alternating points of view, I really felt the characters were real and vulnerable and flawed. I sympathized with them but also saw where each needed to grow and be more sympathetic to those around them. Great character ARC draws it all together in the end. It is hard to believe early drafts of this book had only Hiroshi as the main character and Skye as a girl in his class named Susan. I can't see this written any other way.


I excited to have an interview with Natalie for you today! When I started to research her I found she had already done a ton of fantastic interviews and answered most of the normal questions about her writing and book and getting an agent. All very interesting so if you would like that information please see the following blog posts.

Literary Rambles (7-23-2012)
From the Mixed Up Files... (7-23-2012)
One Word At A Time (9-4-2012)
Word Spelunking (6-25-2012)
That Happa Chick (7-27-2012)

I tried to come up with a few questions she hadn't answered yet so here you go!

1. What do you feel has been the most interesting thing about living in countries outside of the USA?

Living and traveling abroad has given me close-up access to a variety of cultures from Japan, China and Indonesia to European and South American cultures. But after miles and months of traveling, the culture that has been the most surprising to me is my own. It’s difficult to see your own culture while you’re living in the midst of it. It wasn’t until I stepped away that I could see what is and isn’t valued in our culture, and what really defines us as Americans. I realized that we value independence, which is a good thing. But I also saw how other cultures lean more on family and friends than we tend to do. A friend of mine who lives abroad told me recently that his ex-pat experiences have made him both more patriotic and more critical of his own culture. I agree with him 100%.
2. When did you decide you wanted to be a librarian, and what is left (schooling, exams, etc...) before you achieve that goal?

When the offer came in from Charlesbridge, I was elated. It was a moment that I’d dreamed about for so long. Knowing that I would be a published author prompted me to take stock in my professional life and made me question what it was that I really wanted to do.

I loved teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) students, but I felt bogged down by all the paperwork, data, and non-teaching responsibilities of my job. I drew a line down the middle of a piece of paper and listed what I loved about my job on one side (working with kids and everything related to that) and what I didn’t love on the other (paperwork, paperwork, paperwork). Then I asked myself what it was that I really wanted to do for the next 20 years before I retire. The answer was so obvious that I think I laughed out loud—why hadn’t I thought of this before?? I would become a school librarian.

I’d still be working with kids and literacy, I’d be surrounded by books all day long, and a big part of my job would be to get kids to love books and reading. What could be better? So two months later, I started the first of eight graduate courses that I would need for my LMS (Library Media Specialist) endorsement. The next school year, my principal offered me a half-time ESOL, half-time librarian position working alongside a full-time librarian. How lucky I am! My last librarian course will be this spring, and I’ll then be looking for a full-time librarian position for the 2013-2014 school year. I really do have the best job ever.

3. You recently had a book launch at Barnes and Noble (put off since July due to those crazy east-coast storms and power outages!) Can you tell us what you did to prepare for that?  And how did it go? 

The derecho storm was a bit crazy, but even crazier was the thought that I could schedule a book launch the day before we left for Italy for the summer. My husband, who grew up in Italy, is also a teacher, so we have the summers free to spend with his family. Things are always crazy leading up to our summer departure, and this summer was no different. I think that if I’d had my book launch as scheduled on July 1, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as I did on September 15.  

I did do some advance planning—I had postcards and bookmarks printed for kids from my Title I school who might not be able to purchase books, and I had chopsticks for everyone along with “fun chops,” which hold chopsticks together at the top for those who might not be practiced in the art of eating with a pair of chopsticks!
The people at my local Barnes and Noble did a beautiful job in setting up the space with my book displayed all over the walls. My daughters helped set up the table with the origami kite craft, as shown here:

I saw people I hadn’t seen in ages, like my friend and fellow agency-mate Michelle Ray (here below).

I did a short talk followed by an even shorter reading. When I thanked everyone for coming, I told them that the day felt kind of like my wedding day, in that there were people from different chapters of my life all in the same room—colleagues from 20 years past, colleagues from the present, family, relatives, friends from high school, and on and on. That kind of thing doesn’t happen often, and it felt magical.

4. When do you find time to write? Do you have a schedule, or squeeze in time between your mom/kid activities and obligations? 

Finding time to write is definitely a challenge. As a teacher, summer is when I have the most time to write, but I also fit it in during other times. My critique group and I do our own version of NaNoWriMo where we set a daily word count, and then we check in with each other via email at the end of each day with only our daily word count in the subject line. But on a day-to-day basis, I tend to fit in writing when I can, instead of having a daily writing routine. Some days I’ll write nothing, and other days I’ll write 1,000 words—it just depends.
5. What are your top three tips for writers wishing to get published?

1. Connect with other writers and find a critique group. I’ve been with my group for over seven years now, and I so value their feedback. If the first group you try doesn’t seem like a good fit, don’t give up! Find other writers who give respectful—and honest—feedback and whose opinions you trust. That doesn’t mean you always need to agree with their suggestions, but it’s helpful to see how others react to your story.
2. Attend conferences or join online forums. I joined SCBWI when I first started out, and my very first writers’ conference was a small SCBWI gathering in Munich, Germany where Markus Zusak was the keynote speaker. I walked away inspired and ready to dive back in to my work-in-progress. I also joined the discussion boards at Verla Kay’s (, which is like taking several courses at once—on writing, marketing, the pursuit of an agent, and the list goes on.

3. Keep writing. It may sound trite, but it’s true! I know writers who write and rewrite and polish the same manuscript over and over and never write anything new. I feel like I grow as a writer with each manuscript. Starting a new project always feed my enthusiasm for story. I like having more than one manuscript in the hopper so that if I’m stuck on one project, I can play with the other to help jumpstart my brain.

6. What is one question you have not been asked, but always wanted to answer... and please provide the answer! :-)

Good question! Here it is:

What kind of reader did you have in mind when you wrote FLYING THE DRAGON?

I often wonder if people think I wrote FLYING THE DRAGON with multicultural readers in mind. As an ESL teacher, I can tell you that kids from all cultures want to see themselves reflected in the books they read. So yes, I hope that children from Japan and kids who feel caught between two cultures will see themselves in Skye and Hiroshi in FLYING THE DRAGON. But I really wrote this story for all kids who have ever felt that they didn’t fit in. As the child of a military dad, it felt like I was always starting over from one school to the next. I also quickly learned that cultures can differ widely from one state or town to the next, so you don’t have to be from another country to feel that befuddlement that comes with moving to a new place. I hope that readers from all backgrounds with connect with Hiroshi and Skye’s experiences, even readers who have never tried eating with a pair of chopsticks. ;-)

Thanks so much for hosting me on your blog, Julie!
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (MMGM) was created by Shannon Messenger. To find other bloggers participating in MMGM go to her blog for a list of links.


  1. This is on my to-read list!

    LOVE the description of your book launch. Magical seems just the right word.

    1. Thanks so much, Barbara! I've been to so many book signing events in the past, so it was a bit to surreal to know that this one was for my own book. :-)

  2. Thanks for this lovely interview! I enjoyed reading about how you find time to write and your tips for writers.

    1. Thank you, Andrea. I also like hearing how other writers creatively fit in writing time!

  3. Great questions, Julie! I could relate to what Natalie said about traveling for long periods of time and realizing what defines us as Americans. I reached the same conclusion when I spent a year living in England.

    I've been wanting to read this book for a while now. And more so now that Natalie asked and answered that last question. How cool that she wrote it for all the kids who feel they don't fit in.

  4. Thanks for stopping by, Joanne. I've had friends who have taught in England before and were surprised at how different our cultures are. Just goes to show that a shared language doesn't equate with shared culture!

  5. I loved hearing about why the author wrote the book and her intended audience. I haven't read this book yet- but hope to read it soon and share it with my 5th grade students. I also have my degree to be a library media specialist and hope to be in that posistion before too long. Best of luck to Natalie!