Guest Blogger

Each month, we ask distinguished authors or illustrators to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!

Guest Blogger: Kimberly Willis Holt is delighted to welcome award-winning author Kimberly Willis Holt as our featured guest blogger to help you connect to her books in a new way.

We hope you’ll enjoy the first of these special posts from favorite authors.

Tales of the Bossy, Boy-crazy, No Fun Older Sister

by Kimberly Willis Holt

Kimberly Willis Holt and her sisters

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Listen to Kimberly Willis Holt introduce and read from Piper Reed, Navy Brat

When I was a child I resented the stories I read about the ugly mean older sisters. Why did the youngest have to be the kind beautiful one? And why did the eldest always seem to possess the worst flaws? I remember thinking, if I were a writer, I’d never bow down to that storytelling tradition. I’d write a story about the gorgeous gentle-spirited oldest daughter with the two dreadful younger sisters. If you haven’t already figured it out, I’m a first born.

Years later, I did become a writer. I wrote a few books that showcased a sensitive and nurturing oldest child. Then I decided to write a series with the autobiographical framework of my family–a military dad, a mom, and their three daughters. But this time, I rejected using the oldest child as the main point of view. My reason was simple. These books would be light and humorous. A serious main character conflicted with my goal of trying to make the reader laugh. However my sister, the middle child, breezed through life with a knack for seeing the lighter side of things. A character with those traits would be perfect. With that settled, Piper Reed, Navy Brat was born.

Writing is a lot like acting. I may not have been the middle child, but I had to get inside her skin and see the world through her eyes. That included viewing Piper’s older sister like my sister viewed me. Piper thinks Tori is boy-crazy, bossy, and no fun. (Please note: that doesn’t mean I was boy-crazy, bossy, and no fun.)

Tori has a new crush in every book. Skateboard Boy’s picture sits framed on her nightstand. In a future story, she gushes over the new boy. Frankly, I don’t think that has anything to do with me. Just because, at fourteen, I asked a boy who lived a few doors down from our home to a dance doesn’t make me boy-crazy. Never mind that I’d never spoken to him before that.

I understand how you might think I was boy-crazy, considering the number of boys I went out with before settling into a serious relationship at the mature age of sixteen. I was just a kind-hearted girl. If a boy asked me out, I said yes. Please don’t remind me that during this period, my four-year-old youngest sister named her baby doll, Boyfriend.

And let me assure you, I was not bossy. Unless you count the times I told my sisters what to do when they were about to make the wrong choice or washed out their mouths with soap when they said a dirty word. But those authoritative comments and actions came from a tender place. Besides, I’d been around longer. I knew best.

In the Piper Reed books, Tori believes it is only right that she has bathroom privileges first every morning and deserves to sit in the front seat on the way to school. She reminds her sisters when they slack on their chores and tells Piper she is mean when she teases their youngest sister, Sam. Wise girl, that Tori.

Fun may not come as easy for her as it did for me. I could laugh. Maybe I didn’t laugh when I was the joke, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have a sense of humor. To this day, I’m puzzled about why my sister gave me that joke book for Christmas with the note inside that read, Now you can be funny like me.

Maybe I wouldn’t be so defensive if I knew Tori had a cheering section. Sadly, that’s not the case. At elementary schools, kids tell me how much they like Piper and her antics. And in letters they write, “I love Sam. She’s so funny.”

On school visits the students ask, “Which sister are you?”

“I was the oldest like Tori,” I tell them.

They throw me looks like I informed them that recess is forbidden for the rest of their school career.

Let’s not forget that Tori rescues Piper when her new friends expect to see a real fortuneteller. She dresses in complete gypsy-style to keep Piper from humiliation. I can empathize with that. My sister could push my buttons, but my fists curled when anyone tried to harm her.

I like Tori. I understand when she threatens to go on a hunger strike that ends up lasting two hours, rubs Thinner Thigh lotion on her legs, or tries to cover her first pimple with a bandage. I relate to her when she wants to strangle Piper for making up songs like, “A Pimple on the Nose.”

No matter what my readers may think of Tori, she has a heart. A glimpse of it can be seen when she joins her sisters, impulsively running in and out of the water sprinkler as they sing their dad’s favorite song. Or when she compliments Piper’s sand castle design. Tori is an important part of their sister magic–that power that happens when very different people, living under the same roof, create a rhythm that forms a family. I’m proud to think that a bit of her exists in me.

And I have faith that one day I’ll receive a letter from a young reader which begins, Dear Mrs. Holt, Tori Reed is my favorite character.

An original article by author Kimberly Willis Holt.

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