Fans of Renée Watson’s Ryan Hart series, centering on the life and times of a talented young baker from Portland, Oregon, are in for another treat. Picking up where Ways To Grow Love left off, (Bloomsbury, Sept. 27) sees Ryan navigating new responsibilities, expanding her appreciation of what it means to be a sister and a friend, and baking the cake for an extra-special surprise party. Watson answered some questions over email.
Kirkus calls Ways To Share Joy “a tale of family and friendship that exudes pure joy.” What’s Ryan up to in the new book?
Ryan is still cooking, baking, and pulling pranks on her brother. She is adjusting to being the middle child and takes pride in knowing what it is like to be both a big sister and a little sister. She is also navigating friendship and understanding that it’s more important to have a true friend than a best friend.
Among the lessons Ryan learns in Ways To Share Joy is that joy doesn’t necessarily equate to happiness. How does she come to understand the distinction between the two?
The lesson about joy being something deeper than happiness comes from Ryan’s grandmother. She explains to Ryan that happiness is based on circumstances, but joy is connected to an inner peace, a lasting contentment. Ultimately, she is learning how even when things don’t go her way and when life gets tough, there is always something to be grateful for.
Is writing a joyful practice for you?
Absolutely. Joy is a pillar of my work, and I find a lot of purpose and pleasure in writing. There are times, of course, when the writing is slow or when the business side to publishing is discouraging, but even in those moments, my faith and resolve that this is what I am called to do keeps me grounded, keeps me going.
Were you a big reader as a kid? Were there any adults who influenced you as a reader or writer?
I loved reading as a child, and I also loved writing. The more I read, the more I wanted to tell my own stories and be in conversation with the characters in the books I was reading.
Reading was normalized in my family. I would often see my mother reading her Bible before going to bed, and she didn’t just read it—she highlighted passages, read Scriptures out loud, memorized them. She was my first example of how to engage with a text, how to slow down when reading and ponder the meaning, how to hold words dear to your heart. If you open a book from my bookshelf, you’ll quickly be able to tell which ones I have read over and over again, which ones I love and meditate on—they are the books with notes scribbled in the margins, underlined paragraphs, and sticky notes poking out. I am always so tickled when a parent proudly holds up a book I just signed for their young reader, all pristine and in mint condition. I’m not even going to let them touch it, they tell me. And I get it, I appreciate the intent behind that. But while I believe the act of reading is revolutionary and sacred, the physical book is not. A worn book is often a well-read, loved book.
What fall release(s) are you most looking forward to reading?
I’m really excited about On Her Wings by Jerdine Nolen, illustrated by James Ransome, and A Library by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Erin K. Robinson.
Megan Labrise is the editor at large and host of Kirkus’ Fully Booked podcast.