Montreal author/illustrator Alan Silberberg and his book MILO: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze have had a stellar year. From being nominated for the 2011 Silver Birch Award to winning the Quebec Writer’s Federation award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature, Silberberg’s indelible character Milo has captured the hearts of critics and young readers alike.
We got a chance to talk to Silberberg about the inspiration for Milo, his very own Summer Goodman, and what it was like to win the QWF award!
1. Where did the idea for Milo’s character come from?
When I began writing MILO I wasn’t so sure who the character was. The first sentence popped into my brain “Summer Goodman never knew what hit her….” and I saw this kid in my head who had just knocked over the prettiest girl he knew. As I wrote more I started to really draw on what it felt like for me to be Milo’s age and the more I thought about my own past – the more I realized that the character was forming into a version of my thirteen year old self. And that’s when the book took shape as being the story of a boy learning how to live with the loss of his mother.
2. Everyone has a Summer Goodman when you are young – the unattainable, smart and beautiful girl you just can’t get the nerve to talk to. Do you remember your own personal Summer Goodman?
I totally remember my own Summer Goodman! And I was the kid who wrote poems to her and thought I was in love (you know, the 7th grade kind of love) and she was pretty much too cool for me, which only fanned the flames. (I’m really glad I don’t remember those poems!!)
3. The book is kept almost in journal format. Did you keep a journal when you were young? If so, did you doodle in it?
I didn’t keep a journal when I was Milo’s age but was always doodling in the margins of my schoolwork. I started to write in journals later, in high school, and yes, those also had doodles in them. From about that time I also started carrying a blank sketchbook with me all the time that I filled up with thoughts, cartoons and doodles. I still fill sketchbooks all the time.
4. Did you always draw to accompany your writing?
My first book, POND SCUM does not have any of my cartoons in it. Looking back I think it would’ve been an interesting addition, but would’ve changed the book. MILO is filled with my cartoons and my next book, which I’m just finishing now is also filled with cartoons. I hope to continue finding ways to tell stories with words and cartoons because I think it’s a fun way to tell stories…and when I get stuck writing I can always doodle and vice versa!
5. On your website, you say you once wrote a science paper on photosynthesis from the P.O.V of a leaf. Did you do well?
Ah, yes, the photosynthesis report. I remember that I did very well with that paper. I think the teacher must’ve been kind of surprised to read a science report that was a first person narrative of a talking oak leaf.
6. Sometimes the best friendships are those not based on commonality, but on differences that work well together. Milo, Marshall and Hillary are all very different but are absolutely hilarious together. During your writing process, when did you know that these three were destined to be best friends?
I always knew that Milo and Marshall were going to be best friends. Milo is a very introspective character and he pairs up so nicely with weird Marshall, who is extroverted. At first Hillary was just the annoying next door neighbor but as I continued to write about her she made a connection with Milo when she shows him her busted doll collection and from that moment I knew she had her own quirky side and could fit in with the boys and balance them out.
7. Milo has an extremely entertaining imagination! While you were writing him, did you just let your mind wander into these thoughts?
Writing the book required me to do a ton of wandering in my mind. A lot of that came out in Milo’s silly thoughts and in the cartoons. But because the book is loosely based on my own story – my mother died when I was nine – there was also a lot of emotional stuff that came up for me. Ultimately, writing the book was very healing for me and it feels so good to be able to share this story with any children and families dealing with loss.
8. How do you feel about being nominated for the Silver Birch Award and winning the QWF award?!
Winning the Quebec Writer’s Federation award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature was a wonderful acknowledgment. Writing is such a solitary job that it’s so nice when the work you do gets a little attention. The Silver Birch nomination is amazing too and I just love that it’s an award that the kids get to pick. Being nominated is such a great honor.
9. Will there be more coming from Milo in the future?
I am busy writing a few different things right now. Milo probably has more of a story to tell but he’s just busy making stuff up inside my mind….for now.
Check out these fun downloadable activities and watch the trailer below.