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June 13, 2022

In Bird’s debut, characters deal with grief and fear while discovering who they are. The BookLife Review of this middle grade work called it “engaging and heartfelt.” We spoke with Bird about her audience and how she hopes the book will connect with them.

What is the story behind Crossing the Pressure Line?

Crossing the Pressure Line is about identifying the lifeboats that have the power to save us during turbulent times. One of my own personal lifeboats is nature—and the same is true for Clare, my main character. Through her, I wanted to celebrate a sense of wonder and reverence for the natural world, which I think is essential in these times of cell phones, social media, and virtual everything. Go outside, get dirty, move your body, sweat!

For the themes of grief and self-discovery, to what extent did you draw from real life?

Clare’s loss of her grandfather is devastating, but I think it mirrors the grief of many children, and grown-ups, after being stuck in a pandemic for more than two years. I wanted Clare to undergo significant self-discovery and ultimately to achieve a new sense of hope and purpose. This is something every single one of us must do at some point in our lives.

Why did you choose middle grade as your audience?

Middle grade fiction gets right to the heart of a tender, pivotal time, when kids are figuring out who, what, and how they want to be in the world. They long for independence, but they still want the comfort and reassurance of family. They want to stand out from the crowd, but they still want to fit in. Unsurprisingly, these competing values collide like furious little atoms.

On top of these social and emotional shifts, many tweens struggle to find confidence in their own bodies. I wanted Clare to model a different way of being. Even though she’s not the fastest or the strongest, she develops a powerful mind-body connection and sense of agency. Together, these things allow her to become a force. I think tweens need to be reminded that they are capable of that. I certainly would’ve benefited from hearing this message at age 12.

The number of middle grade books being published is exploding. Do you have any advice for writers who want to write their own middle grade book?

I love middle grade novels because their themes are universal and eternal: what it means to belong, why it’s crucial to speak up, and how to become our own best cheerleaders. There’s a bigheartedness to the stories that’s understandably appealing to many writers.

I think a common challenge in crafting middle grade fiction is to avoid teaching or preaching from the adult perspective. It’s easy to have the parent— or teacher or auntie or neighbor—instruct the main character, but that’s a no-no for this genre. All the discoveries and realizations need to come from the kids themselves. They must actively drive their own learning and self-actualization.

How do you imagine readers at this moment will connect to Crossing the Pressure Line?

I think it’s so important to be open and honest about our fears and big feelings. No one benefits when we sweep them under the rug. Through Clare, I wanted to show kids that it’s okay to feel like a wad of playdough being smooshed in one direction and then another. It’s a huge part of the human experience, and it’s how we become resilient.

I hope that readers quickly catch on to Clare’s superpower, which is how calm and thoughtful she remains when confronted by stressful situations. I wish I was better at that myself!

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