There is nothing ordinary about third grader Sophie Simon. She spends her time thinking about getting her little hands on a graphing calculator for Calculus and reading The Principles of Civil Disobedience (for fun). Which is why I was drawn to Lisa Graff’s book, Sophie Simon Solves Them All, in the first place.
I caught up with Lisa Graff, a New School alum via email, to get the 411 on her book, plus her tips for aspiring writers.
LH: How long did it take you to write “Sophie Simon Solves Them All?”
LG: Sophie Simon is a chapter book, and chapter books are usually about half the length of middle-grade novels, which are what I write most often. Since a first draft of a middle-grade novel takes me about six months to write, I foolishly anticipated that this book would take me only a few months or even weeks to write. I should have known better. The first draft of Sophie ended up taking nine months, and I had a lot of revisions to do from there. It was a good lesson that “shorter” often equals “harder,” since you have to do all the work of squeezing character and plot and humor into so few words. There’s really no space to muck around, and that can prove to be quite a challenge.
LH: Sophie Simon is a genius and she has to overcome many obstacles to stay that way. Did you face any challenges growing up as a smart girl?
LG: Well, I’m very flattered that you assume I’m smart. No, I don’t remember any particular challenges of that vein. I was a very good student, the kind of nerdy kid who eagerly anticipated the first day of school every year. School was fun for me—I followed all the rules and worked hard and got good grades and teachers liked me. Looking back, I think the inspiration for the book may well have come from my older brother, Ryan, who is a real-life genius (I sadly, cannot claim that label). Ryan isn’t much like Sophie in most ways, but he did grow up with the burden of that fancy brain of his.
LH: If the story had been about a boy do you think he would face similar obstacles?
LG: I think it would probably have been a very similar story. Most of Sophie’s challenges come from her parents, who want her to be “normal.” In real life, of course, girls are often asked to conform to social norms more than boys, but this wasn’t an issue I dealt with in this particular book. I was mainly concerned with the idea of parents who completely misunderstand their own children. In Sophie Simon all the members of the child cast, boy or girl, have parents who don’t get them at all, and who try to fit them into boxes where they don’t belong.
LH: Why do Sophie’s parents discourage her from reaching her full potential?
LG: I loved the idea of parents who are completely un-thrilled by an overachieving child, since this isn’t something we see a lot of in real life (it’s also a bit of a tribute to Roald Dahl’s Matilda, one of my all-time favorite books). But I think it also speaks to the larger theme of the book, and one that is, sadly, all too common amongst real-life children, which is parents putting their own aspirations on their kids, instead of letting them decide who they want to be for themselves.
LH: Did you have to do a lot of research for your story? What tips do you have for other storytellers about conducting research?
LG: I did do a bit of research for the book. There are references to everything from Gandhi’s Salt March to Dandi to the Greensboro sit-ins to anti-gravity boots, so I had to make sure I got all of those things right (and could reference them in a way that would be clear to a six- to nine-year-old crowd, which was not always easy). Probably the thing I spent the most time researching was ring-tailed lemurs, since one particular lemur makes a very memorable appearance.
Whenever I have to research anything for a book, I go a little nuts, and try to learn everything I can about that subject—even if what ends up in the story is only a single sentence. I’m not sure this is the best way to approach writing research, but it is fun.
LH: Can we expect a continuation to this story? Maybe Sophie solving it all in High School too?
I’m so glad you enjoyed her story! I don’t know if we’ll ever see more of Sophie—but I never say never.
Thanks so much for having me drop by!
Laura Elizabeth Hernandez is a seasoned media professional with more than 10 years of experience in production, publicity, marketing, sales and administration. Her extensive experience includes positions at Latina Media Ventures, where she worked in production and sales for Latina Magazine;Fortent Inc., International Soccer Marketing and Reynardus + Moya Advertising. Hernandez is also a writer whose work has appeared on latina.com, lossip.com and The Huffington Post.
Lisa Graff is also the author of Umbrella Summer, The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower, The Thing about Georgie, Double Dog Dare, A Tangle of Knots and her most recent book Absolutely Almost.