Friend Friday

It’s such a pleasure to host Nancy J. Cavanaugh today in celebration of her latest book, Just Like Me (Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky), a sleep away camp story which makes a perfect summertime read!


Nancy J. Cavanaugh

Students in my school visit audiences often ask me how I get ideas for my books. I give the usual writerly answers: My inspiration comes from place such as my own experiences, things I see on television, and overheard conversations I probably shouldn’t be listening to. And even though all the answers I offer students about where my ideas come from are true, those answers don’t really explain how I actually turn those ideas into books.

Recently it occurred to me that transforming my ideas into interesting and meaningful stories is a little bit like looking into a kaleidoscope. Even if it’s been years since you peered into a kaleidoscope, most likely you remember, at least vaguely, the interesting shapes and colors you saw. You also probably remember pointing that kaleidoscope at a bright light or at the sun in order to make the shapes and colors become more vibrant. And no doubt, if you remember all of that, you must also remember that with a simple twist to the end of that kaleidoscope, the shapes and colors changed, making a brand new design. The more you twisted; the more the design changed.

Turning my ideas into stories that eventually become books is a lot like that kaleidoscope. In order to write my newest book, Just Like Me, (a funny, uplifting summer camp story about unlikely friendships and finding your place in the world), I took my own memories of going to summer camp and added to it my daughter’s experience of going to summer camp with two other girls adopted from the same Chinese orphanage she was. I put these ideas into my kaleidoscope, held it up to the light, and used my imagination to begin twisting those ideas into a story. The result was something brand new. Just Like Me is inspired by mine and my daughter’s experiences, but the story isn’t really something that happened to either one of us. Mine and my daughter’s experiences put together made a picture full of creative shapes and bright colors, but what made that picture even more creative, unique, and meaningful was the twist I gave those ideas by using my own imagination to create completely new characters which evolved into a uniquely new story.

So yes, I get my ideas from all the usual places – people I see, places I go, experiences I have, but putting those ideas into my kaleidoscope and using my imagination to give them a twist is really the way my ideas become books.


Nancy J. Cavanaugh is the acclaimed author of Always, Abigail, a Texas Bluebonnet Award nominee, and This Journal Belongs to Ratchet, a Florida State Library Book Award winner, an NCTE Notable Children’s Book in the Language Arts Award winner, and a nominee for numerous state awards, including Florida Sunshine State Young Reader’s Award and Illinois Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Award. School Library Journal calls her third novel, Just Like Me, “A charming and refreshingly wholesome coming-of-age story . . . Filled with slapstick humor and fast-paced action.”

Nancy and her husband and daughter enjoy winters in sunny Florida and eat pizza in Chicago the rest of the year. Click on the link above to visit her webpage; find her on Twitter: @nancyjcavanaugh