Six Questions with Melissa Hart
Melissa Hart is a journalist, a public speaker, and the author of several books—most recently Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens, the new middle-grade novel Daisy Woodworm Changes the World. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Smithsonian, CNN, The Washington Post, Real Simple, and numerous other publications. She lives in Oregon, where she loves to hike and bicycle, kayak and run, and travel in and beyond the state to explore unusual new places and people. For more information, visit www.melissahart.com
1. How did you begin your journey as an author?
My mother was a journalist, and I grew up watching her write on her electric typewriter in her little office in the garage. I’d bring her coffee--her life looked so glamorous! She noticed my interest, and taught me to type, and then told me to write a story and send it to a magazine. I wrote a story about a girl in the hospital who befriends a white tiger cub. It didn’t get published, but when I was 15, I had two poems in Cat Fancy Magazine and a short story in Scholastic Voice—a magazine that went out to high school students across the country. I’ve been writing stories and journalistic articles ever since!
2. Who was your favorite author when you were a child?
As a child and young adult, I read everything Madeleine L’Engle wrote. I started with A Wrinkle in Time, after my fifth-grade teacher read it aloud to our class. I read the trilogy, and then all of her novels for teens. I loved her focus on protagonists who felt different from their peers, who were hyper-sensitive and thoughtful and not always happy, but always engaged in life. My mother left my father and came out as a lesbian when I was nine; consequently, the court took me away from her. I missed her so much. I went from being a popular, outgoing kid to a shy, lonely tween. Madeleine L’Engle’s stories taught me how to find solace in nature, literature, music, and art.
3. What three things bring you joy?
I love going on really long, hard bicycle rides with my husband or friends—the longer and higher the hill, the better! It’s exhilarating to be out in the fresh air pedaling past forests and rivers, bombing downhill with the wind in my face! I love to learn new things and meet new people. The other day, I interviewed the owner of an alpaca farm. She’s almost 70, and she raises alpacas and Great Pyrenees dogs. I got to see an alpaca spit, and I got to walk one on a leash. Finally, I love to hike and photograph insects and plants and birds. Parts of Oregon are still so wild, and I’m always discovering new creatures. Sometimes, they make it into my books.
4. Where did you get the idea for your newest book?
My younger brother was the inspiration for Daisy Woodworm Changes the World. He has Down syndrome, which is an intellectual disability, and he’s got a passion for fashion. I’ve written newspaper articles about young athletes and entrepreneurs with Down syndrome, and I got to thinking about how—if I’d had social media when my brother and I were kids—I could have helped him become a YouTube fashion influencer. Most people don’t know anyone with Down syndrome, and I hope Daisy inspires kids to reach out a hand in friendship to peers who might look and act a little differently from themselves. My brother is hilarious. We talk almost every day, and he’s one of my best friends.
5. If you could tell readers one secret about this book, what would it be?
Okay, this is so embarrassing, but I was not a good science student in middle and high school. I was all about English and Literature and History—I thought science was boring. Daisy Woodworm, as an amateur entomologist, is the student I wish I’d been. In eighth grade, she already knows so much about the life cycles and habits of insects, and I envision her going on to get an A in high school Biology and Chemistry . . . instead of my Cs. I’ve had to learn science on my own, through interviewing scientists and writing articles about vampire bats for The Washington Post, and Bryozoan colonies for High Country News.
6. If you read Daisy Woodworm to a room filled with kids, what message would you want them to leave with?
I often do school visits, and I love to read aloud. I hope that while I’m out promoting Daisy at schools and libraries, kids will realize that they can change the world for the better regardless of their age. I filled this book with examples of real-life kids who’ve done world-changing projects—kids like Mikaila Ulmer who founded Me and the Bees lemonade in grammar school to help save honeybees, and Jahkil Jackson who created a nonprofit to deliver “blessing bags” to homeless people when he was eight. Daisy’s teacher offers a blueprint to his students—and to readers of this novel—empowering them to come up with an idea, find people to help, and then launch their world-changing project!