We’re pretty big fans of American Girl dolls out here in Eastern Iowa. It might seem silly to love dolls, but my Grandma Ruth used to make homemade dolls for all of her granddaughters and I remember beautiful German dolls from my childhood. With three daughters from 4 -10 years old, it’s a safe bet that we have a lot of dolls in our house. I was pretty excited when Grace, 2015 American Girl of the Year, showed up at our barn in late January and even more excited to read her story – written by Mary Casanova.
In Casanova’s book, Grace, Grace heads to Paris to help out her pregnant American aunt and French uncle in their French pastry shop. To bond with her French cousin, work in the shop, and tour around Paris, Grace needs to learn to speak French. Casanova’s description of Grace learning French was exactly the way I learned German when my family moved to Germany when I was 6 1/2 years old. My girls and I loved following Grace through Paris as she worked with her family and brainstormed ways to start up her own business as well. We were very excited about the opportunity to interview Mary Casanova about her experience writing the book we really enjoyed.
Inspirational Interview w/ Mary Casanova – 2015 American Girl of Year Author
After my girls and I read the book Grace, we compiled the list of questions for Mary together, and I love the insight she gives, not only on her new series Grace, but also her experience working with American Girl, and inspiration for aspiring writers as well. Following are the questions we asked her and the answers she gave!
1. Can you describe the process of working with American Girl to create a doll of year series? Does American Girl tell you the doll’s name, or do you think that up on your own? Do they give you the doll when she comes out?
First, I must say I absolutely love working with the folks at American Girl. They care about producing well-researched stories as much as I do, and they value publishing stories that are both educational and entertaining.
I’m always thrilled when the phone rings and I’m offered a chance to co-create another character and write her stories. For the 2015 Girl of the Year, I was asked to write about a girl who loves to bake, gets a chance to travel (to Paris), and returns with the idea of starting a business. I head off to do research—Paris for a week and the East Coast for another week—and write an outline. Once the outline is approved, I work closely with my editor at American Girl for an intense season of writing and revising.
We eventually settle on a character’s name by going through lists of possibilities. I may not get my top choice, but I do get to offer input. Once the first name is settled upon, we later settle on a last name. And yes, when the books come out, I’m fortunate to get a few complimentary dolls. When they arrive, it feels like Christmas!
2. How did you get started as a writer?
I fell in love with writing when I was in high school; I knew I would love to have a career of crafting stories out of words. But not until I was 32 did I consider writing for children. I poured my heart and energy into this field and have never looked back. Thirty-three published books later, I still find endless ideas to explore through stories.
3. How long did it take you to write the books? How many times do you have to edit your stories before they are perfect?
Every book is different. Some books have taken me five years, other a few months. When it comes to writing for American Girl, the deadlines are tight. But unlike working with other publishers, American Girl offers me an incredible amount of support. They bring in experts who are available to offer feedback, whether it’s corresponding with a French chef or an expert on entrepreneurialism (running your own business). Plus, my editor is always there, working closely with me every step of the way.
4. What inspiration can you give girls to write stories of their own?
Writing is a wonderful way to explore the world around you and the world within. I find that writing helps me discover what I think. Every story is an exploration of what it means to be human, and by writing many stories, I learn more about the world around me. So I say, just write whatever comes your way, whether it’s a silly poem, a serious story, or an epic adventure. Write to create, to explore, to discover. And of course, the more you write, the better a writer you’ll become.
5. I enjoyed the book on a personal level because my family moved to Germany when I was almost seven years old and I learned to speak German in much the way Grace was learning to speak French. I have vivid memories of walking around our apartment with my life-long German friend Sarah (pictured above at our most recent visit this past summer), asking “Was ist das,” which means “what is that,” just like Grace asked Sylvie, “qu’est-ce que c’est.” My husband and I also visited Paris two years ago and I enjoyed many of the tips you gave about French people (attention to detail) as well as your descriptions of sights that we also saw in Paris. I read online that you’ve been to Paris several times, but I’m curious what else you did to prepare for this series. What life experiences did you have that prepared you to write the Grace series? Have you ever lived in a foreign country?
I love hearing about YOUR experience of moving to Germany as a young girl and learning another language. I’ve visited many countries for a week or two at a time, but my home has been in in northern Minnesota for a long time.
As a writer, I first must immerse myself in research (visiting Paris again, going to the home of a French chef and taking a class, touring locations I hoped to use in my story), but ultimately, I have to go beyond research to using my imagination. Once I return home to my studio, I must face the blank page. I must toss fear over my shoulder. I must enter the world of story and get to know my character and allow her voice to come forward. To be honest, I never feel fully qualified to write anything I tackle, but at some point I must jump in and trust the process.
6. American Girl dolls teach girls a lot of historical lessons and inspire girls to go above and beyond the ordinary. What lessons do you hope girls learn from Grace?
I hope girls take inspiration in Grace’s “can do” attitude. She is full of ideas, and she want to turn creative ideas into reality. I love that about Grace. She doesn’t give up, even when things get difficult. She brainstorms for creative ways of moving forward.
7. We’ve only read Grace’s first book. Can you give us a teaser about what happens in her future?
When Grace returns from Paris, she’s excited to share her idea of starting a French baking business with her friends. But of course, starting up a business with friends isn’t easy. The girls must learn to work together and overcome challenges that arise. And by Book 3, when Grace learns that her grandparents family bakery is struggling to keep its doors open, she and her friends try to use the skills they’ve learned to help keep the bakery from closing.
As the mom of four homeschooled children, I’m excited to read these answers – not only for the insight into working with American Girl, but also for the encouragement Mary gives to aspiring young writers. I hope you get a chance to visit Paris through Mary Casanova’s book Grace.
Many thanks, Mary, for your inspirational interview! We really loved hearing about your writing experiences and what it’s like to work with American Girl. Thank YOU!
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Have you read the story of Grace or any of the other Girls of the Year? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the interview Mary Casanova!