I first met author Danielle Joseph when we both attended the TENT program at the Yiddish Book Center. Danielle is a wonderful writer and storyteller, and I am so excited to discuss her new middle-grade novel, SYDNEY A. FRANKEL’S SUMMER MIX-UP (Kar-Ben, 2021). In the book, Sydney and her best friend Maggie swap places in their summer classes at the Jewish Community Center. Their antics have some unexpected results and their endearing friendship will appeal to young readers. Welcome, Danielle!
I love the slightly madcap idea that Sydney and Maggie switch places in their summer classes at the Jewish Community Center. Tell me a bit about what inspired this idea.
In the first draft of Sydney Frankel, Sydney was sent to summer class against her will, but without switching with Maggie. I felt like I needed to raise the stakes for her, so I discussed some things that could throw a wrench into her story with my critique partner and good friend Christina Diaz Gonzalez. From there the switcheroo idea was born! I wanted a little bit more excitement and to achieve that, I had to get Sydney WAY out of her comfort zone.
There is a light-hearted feel to Sydney’s story, yet she and her friends experience very real emotions in relatable situations. As a writer, how did you balance these elements?
It was important to me that many different readers could see themselves in this story and that’s why I brought this particular group of kids together in Sydney’s summer class. I wanted to tap into real emotions because starting middle school can be very daunting, especially if you don’t fit into the “perfect” kid mold. But at the same time, I wanted Sydney’s humor to shine through and to show that you can be funny and smart and still have obstacles that hold you back from being your true self.
Although Sydney and Maggie ultimately fess up (after some very creative problem solving) they don’t regret their initial decision to go against their parents’ wishes. What do you hope young readers take away from Sydney and Maggie?
I hope young readers will understand how important it is to be true to yourself and if possible make the best out of the situation. Even though Sydney and Maggie’s summer journey starts off rocky because of a problem that they created, they both adapted and made the best of the circumstances by seeing it all the way through. Through doing this they both allowed themselves to grow and most importantly they came clean in the end.
Finally, when writing novels are you a pantser or a plotter?
I’m really a bit of both. It depends what story I’m working on. For some stories, I just write myself a bunch of notes before I get started and every time I’m stuck, I add to those notes. Other times, I do a skeleton outline and fill in as I go. I love doing storyboards because I’m a huge fan of post-it notes and colorful markers, but other times most of the plotting ends up inside one of my many notebooks. This is usually chapter by chapter. I do like to get a sense of the character’s voice before I really start writing so whether I’m outlining or not, I still like to write the first chapter before I really get moving.
Danielle Joseph is the author of the 2021 CBC Notable Social Studies picture book, I Want to Ride the Tap Tap and the middle grade novel, Sydney A. Frankel’s Summer Mix-Up, which Kirkus Reviews says, “Big secrets, best friends and pitch-perfect characters drive this funny, touching story. ” In addition, Danielle has written three young adult novels–Shrinking Violet, Indigo Blues, and Pure Red. Shrinking Violet was adapted into the 2012 Disney Channel movie, Radio Rebel starring Debby Ryan. Danielle has a BFA in Creative Writing and an MA in Marketing Communications and Advertising, both from Emerson College in Boston, Mass. Danielle was born in Cape Town, South Africa and currently lives in Maryland with her husband and three children.