Judy Hoffman's new contemporary fantasy, The Art of Flying (Disney-Hyperion, October 2013), may be her debut, but her writing style makes it clear she's no novice.
A fun and engaging middle-grade novel, The Art of Flying features 11-year-old Fortuna Dalliance, who is typically a down-to-earth kind of kid. When her eclectic neighbors turn out to be witches, and they desperately need Fortuna's help, she's ready for adventure. The Baldwin sisters have gotten themselves into a pickle by turning three birds – an owl and two sparrows – into a bullying man and two boys. And they want Fortuna to talk some sense into one of them, Martin, to let the witches turn him back into a bird.
Fortuna isn't so sure she believes in magic. But once she gets to know Martin, she's certain she doesn't want to lose his friendship. The pressure is on, since the witchy Baldwin sisters face stiff penalties for their magic if they don't get those humans turned back into their feathery old selves within five days.
"Silly witches, transformed birds and a plucky heroine equal 'real, live adventure,' writes Kirkus Reviews. The Art of Flying makes a great holiday gift for middle-grade readers who like uplifting, spirited fantasy.
Question: Witches, birds transformed into children, talking animals. What made you want to write The Art of Flying? And why a fantasy?
Judy Hoffman: I've always been a big fan of fantasy, especially stories about magic coming into regular kids' lives. I think there are many things happening around us that we just don't pay attention to. The Art of Flying came from a story I carried inside me for a long time about children and birds and flying and merging those worlds together. I had ideas for the overall plot and the main characters, but much of it evolved as I went along.
Q: This is your debut novel, but your don't write like a rookie. Where did you develop your craft and how long have you been at it?
JH: I've written quietly for a number of years and taken writing courses along the way. My educations is really from the reading I've done all my life. I have always leaned toward books that are considered classics. I think I draw from some of the older styles of writing. I write and write and revise incessantly until the words feel and look right on paper and sound right when read aloud.
Q: A Kirkus review likened your haphazard witches, the Baldwin sisters, to those in Roald Dahl's The Witches. What authors and books influence your writing? What or who inspires you?
JH: The Wizard of Oz books started me on the magical journey when I was very young. E. Nesbit is a huge influence. The Secret Garden, The Wind in the Willows, E.B. White (Charlotte's Web). Roald Dahl (but I never read The Witches). The list goes on and on.
J.K. Rowling is my hero. She brought magic and reading back into the world. Her background without a formal education in writing gave me the courage to submit my own book for publication.
Q: What do you hope children take away from your books?
JH: So far, I've never had a big seated theme or message I want to impart when I write. I mostly want to entertain and captivate the reader so that they want to keep reading. At the end of the book, I'd like them to reluctantly close it and say, "That was fun. I want to read this again." That, to me, is the ultimate.
Q: What will we see from you next?
JH: I'm finishing up a book about a meerkat endowed with special powers who is discovered by three children and their grandma in their backyard in Texas. I also am working on a story about a girl named Clarissa who is the niece of Selena and Ellie - the witches from The Art of Flying.
I hope to finish both these books up soon and see what happens!