Monday, July 8, 2013

Kimberley Griffiths Little Works Magic With 'Butterflies'

Summer is a great time for kicking back poolside or on the beach with a juicy mystery to solve. And Kimberley Griffiths Little's latest middle-grade novel, When the Butterflies Came (Scholastic, April 2013), is just the book for young sleuths. The cover alone is enticing, featuring a young girl on the sand surrounded by dazzling butterflies. And that the author is Kimberley, whose honors include the Southwest Book Award, the Whitney Award for Best Youth Novel of 2010, Bank Street College Best Books of 2011, Crystal Kite Finalist, and New Mexico Book Award Finalist, rest assured that readers are in good hands.

When the Butterflies Came tells the story of 12-year-old Tara, whose Grammy Claire has recently died. Tara's mother has sunken into a deep depression and is essentially unreachable, and Tara feels little to no connection to her rebellious sister, Riley. Soon after her grandmother's passing, mysterious butterflies begin to follow her around. Tara believes her grandmother has left her a great mystery to solve.

Question: The mysterious and magical elements to your story pull readers in. Where did you get the idea for Tara and Grammy Claire and those keys? Have you written a mystery before? What was your creative process like? 

Kimberley Griffiths Little:
This is my first true mystery, although I adored reading mysteries when I was growing up and attempted to write mysteries years ago, but they are really hard!

When the Butterflies Came sort of grew organically. My characters and setting came first, and I wanted to do something with a really cool, smart grandmother. So I made her a research scientist on an island in Micronesia who has a tree-house laboratory and is fiercely trying to protect her special butterflies.

The first chapter always gets rewritten about 10 times or more, but Grammy Claire’s letters to Tara seemed to write themselves. They are the only part of the book that didn’t go through major revision – just a few tweaks, which almost never happens.

I included many elements I love, like secret letters and old-fashioned keys. And then, of course, butterflies are just awesome. So after a lot of brainstorming the story started coming together – and turned into a mystery of all things, which I never expected!

Q: The butterflies make delightful characters. Was it hard to write elements of magic realism? While it is so easy to devour as a reader, I think writing fantasy and magic realism is challenging. What was it like?

KGL: We have a cultural fascination with butterflies because they’re such gorgeous and extraordinary creatures. Butterflies have this magical ability to “sleep/die” when a caterpillar becomes a chrysalis and then “resurrect” into a flying flower.

The realism angle: I wanted to know more about one of the minor characters, Tara Doucet, from my previous novel, Circle of Secrets. She’s a modern day Scarlett O’Hara whose family still lives in their crumbling Doucet Mansion in the South along the bayou – and who hasn’t dreamed of being Scarlett O’Hara? But she’s Scarlett with a touch of OCD and a bratty older sister!

I love magical realism: a story set in the real world with real characters and problems and then turning one element upside down/inside out that gives the story a magical, otherworldly feel. I grew up reading lots of magical realism books – although that term had not been coined 30 years ago!

Book giveaway! Kimberley will send a copy of When the Butterflies Came to one lucky person who comments on this interview!

Q: There is a lot of adventure going on in When the Butterflies Came, but ultimately it is a book about coping with loss. What do you hope readers take away from your story?

KGL: No matter what we write, our personal beliefs often creep through. I hope readers will feel the importance of unconditional, family love; that we can get through anything with love and faith and forgiveness. I want readers and kids to know that families can be strong and that they are the most important relationships we have. I’ve personally gone through a lot of loss in my own life, losing all of my grandparents and my father and a few friends by the time I was 16 years old. Several months ago we lost my baby brother (out of six of us) to sudden, out-of-the-blue brain cancer, and it has left me reeling and unbearably sad. The only way I get through it is to rely on my sisters and my other brothers, and I’m so very grateful for them.

Q: You're a prolific writer for middle-grade (The Healing Spell, The Last Snake Runner). What do you hope to achieve with your books? And why did you choose middle-grade as your niche?

KGL: Middle-grade books are special and marvelous in so many ways. Seven- to 14-years-old is the age where books are more powerful than any other. Ask any adult reader their favorite children’s books and they can name several right off the top of their head. Our favorite children’s books impact us and stay with us throughout our lives, influencing our reading and education forever more.

Middle-grade books are so important, I also helped found this terrific site, which has turned out to be the biggest middle-grade blog/website on the internet. From the Mixed-Up Files . . . of Middle-Grade Authors. One of the quotes on the site is from me:

"Middle-grade books = Magic. Kids devour their favorite books, laugh and giggle, shiver with goose bumps, and sometimes sob on their pillows with strong emotions. When I was young, books were my lifeline, my best friends, and books were usually better than real life. That’s why I now write middle-grade books—to recreate the magic and discover new best friends, and sometimes sob into my pillow."

Q: You're the founder of Spellbinders and have a commitment to growing lifelong readers. With so much competition for young readers' time from other realms (social media, video gaming, computer gaming), what is your take on the state of children's literature and literacy?

KGL: That is such a huge question and one that sometimes frightens me but usually ends up comforting me because no matter how big we get for our britches there will always be a place for story. Stories are part of our DNA. Social media, video/computer games are inherently all about story, too. And the past 10 years, due to books like Harry Potter and the surge of paranormal YA novels, children’s literature has become very popular reading for adults, too. Kid’s books are booming bigger than adult literature. Which is exciting!

Q: What can we expect to see from you next?

KGL: I just turned in my next middle-grade novel to my editor at Scholastic for Summer 2014. It’s called The Time of the Fireflies and is about a girl who lives in an antique store with a cursed doll.

I’m also doing final revisions for my YA debut novel with HarperCollins, which will publish Fall 2014. It’s a trilogy pitched as the Young Adult version of The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. I’ve been working on this project for 10 years, and I’m thrilled that it sold in a huge deal to Harper. It’s about the roots of belly dance in the women’s world of the ancient Middle East, goddess temples, tribal warfare, and a delicious romance.

A firm title is still forthcoming but keep checking my website for details and keep up with me on Facebook and Twitter where I’m pretty active.

Thank you so much for having me here, Kate! I enjoyed the questions very much, and your readers are always welcome to email me at:


  1. Indians believe that dragonflies represent souls of the dead. I believe that dragonflies and butterflies are both beautiful symbols. My mother told me to look for her in those creatures before she passed so I'm anxious to read this book with my almost 9 year old.


    Alicia Abele

  2. So great to hear from you, Alicia! Thanks for commenting. And I love hearing about your mom.

  3. i agree that when you read books when you are young, they have an impact on you. Because of that, I wanted to be a writer when I was young. I never did pursue that dream, but I still love books and have a hard time putting them down.

  4. WOW! Kimberly, you have a lot going on and coming up soon! That's so wonderful. Thanks for sharing your books and writing with us. I would love to win a copy!

  5. Thank you so much for the lovely comments, Alicia, Rebecca, and Margo. I appreciate the kudos and love! :-)

    Every culture seems to have stories and myths about butterflies, which I find quite intriguing.