She’s back! Dory, that is. Last year, author-illustrator Abby Hanlon introduced the busy, bustling world of children’s literature to Dory, one of its most memorable new characters. This first book in a series, Dory Fantasmagory (named a Kirkus Best Book of 2014), was met with uniformly good reviews and garnered legions of fans. I personally keep having to replenish my bookshelf with a copy of this first book in the series, since I like to recommend it to children I meet, as well as parents and educators I know who are surrounded by children. While enthusiastically talking it up, I find myself giving my copy away, because it is an exceedingly funny story and captures the imagination of young children in a very honest—and never saccharine—way; thus my constant need to replenish, much to the distress of my own children. (“Did you give Dory away AGAIN? WHERE’S DORY?” I hear on a regular basis from the next room.)
Now I have a second book to recommend, Dory and the Real True Friend, on shelves now. It’s a new school year for Dory, and she meets Rosabelle, who cuts her grapes with a knife and wears an “especially poufy” dress. Dory is determined for them to be best friends, as well as convince her family that Rosabelle isn’t yet another figment of her imagination. It’s a satisfying sequel in every way; readers will be happy to see the return of Mary, Dory’s favorite monster, even if Mary is not welcome at school this year—as well as Mr. Nuggy, Dory’s fairy godmother, and the nefarious Mrs. Gobble Gracker, her mortal enemy.
I talked to Abby via email about this entertaining second installment in the series.
Dory Fantasmagory was so well-received. Did you feel pressure when working on the sequel?
Yes! I couldn’t stomach the possibility of making a sequel that wasn’t as fun as the first. The sequel was scheduled to come out nine months after the first book. I wouldn’t have committed to that schedule if I weren’t fairly confident that I could pull off a second book of equal quality. I had already written about fifty percent of the book at the same time I wrote book one, so I wasn’t starting from scratch. And in a way, having a successful first book gave me something concrete to measure new material against, which was enormously helpful.
Most of the pressure was actually time. I pick up my kids every day from the school bus at 2:45, so within an already tight production schedule, I have a limited time each day to work. But that also means I have limited time to worry. When I’m working, I focus on making the best book possible for myself, my kids, and my editor. Beyond that, I don’t allow myself to think too much about how the book is going to be received, because those thoughts are so counter-productive to creative work.
Can you talk a bit about coming up with the storyline for this second book? Did it flow naturally for you out of the first book?
Actually, the storyline of Dory and The Real True Friend, which is mostly about two girls developing a friendship at recess, was the story I tried to write when I first attempted to write a picture book 11 years ago. (The main character’s name was Ivy, because it was pre–Ivy and Bean!) This story went through a zillion versions over a few years and eventually got shelved, because it never came together. So being able to integrate this plot into the Dory series was enormously satisfying for me. I first wrote the story before I had my own children, and then my children grew into the age of the characters and enabled me to flesh them out in a way I wasn’t able to before.
When I first came up with the character of Dory, I imagined her as having a difficult time transitioning from home to school but then falling in love with her classmate, Rosabelle. So that part of the storyline grew naturally out of the first book. But tying it all together into a plot—with Rosabelle’s conception of herself as a princess, Mr. Nuggy’s transformation into a chicken, and Mrs. Gobble Gracker’s quest for the princess—that was hard! It’s kind of like juggling: it’s easy to throw a bunch of balls up in the air, but it takes blood, sweat, and tears to figure out how to catch them.
What advice would you have for anyone who wants to write for this age rang—that is, those early chapter books that are past beginning readers but way before thick middle-grade novels? I know authors get asked this a lot (the advice question), but I think it's such a difficult age to write for, and you pull it off so well. You never manage to make Dory's interior life too cloying or precious, which would be easy to do.
I would say to spend as much time as possible around children the age you are writing for. I pay close attention to what triggers kids—what makes them laugh and what makes them cry. Or what makes them laugh and cry at the same time! Compared to adults, kids express emotions so frequently and so openly that they are fairly easy creatures to study.
I would also recommend reading your manuscript out loudas you are working, and it’s even better if you can read it out loud to some kids. Then pay attention to what they don’t get, because if they don’t get something, you have to correct it. As they respond to the manuscript, you can even edit it with them.
What's next for you? Any more picture books in the works, by chance? And are more Dory books in the works?
I am currently working on the manuscript for the third Dory book. Dory is a struggling reader, while Rosabelle is flying through chapter books. When Dory and her reading partner George find themselves stuck with a bin of babyish easy readers, Dory’s imagination leads them out of the classroom and into the book.
DORY AND THE REAL TRUE FRIEND. Copyright © 2015 by Abby Hanlon. Published by Dial Books for Young Readers, New York. Image reproduced by permission of Abby Hanlon.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.