Where did you get the idea for Sketches from a Spy Tree?

At first, it was just a collection of poems about different neighborhoods I've lived in since I was a kid.   Then, my editors, Dinah Stevenson & Marcia Leonard asked me who this girl was, what her story was and why she had such an odd take on everything. Instantly, I knew the answer! Anne Marie's story came whole to me- I knew she was a twin, her dad had left the family, and that she was more than just a little ticked about her mom's new romance.

You are a twin. Is this book about you?

Yes, I am a twin but no this isn't my life at all. All the stuff about being a twin is true though- Trish and I really did lose the same teeth on the same days, we scored identically on our IQ tests (and answered the same way on the questions we missed). She is my best friend, and always will be. Miss Emory is based off my Grandma Vaughn too (she even wore her hair like that)- but she had scores of poodles, not cats, but I took artistic license with that. A quilt of poodles folded around her legs just isn't the same image, is it? But, the other stuff is all fiction.

Who is your favorite character?

Well, if I had to pick I guess I'd say The Kramer's. They are the neighbors I always wished I had. Oh, for a tray of chocolate chip cookies and rot-your-teeth Kool-Aid! But, I love them all (except her dad, what a jerk!) and wish I lived on the same block. Don't you?

Why did you write Spy Tree in poetry instead of a novel?

It came out that way. I didn't plan it. I've loved poetry and have written it consistently since I was ten years old (and I've got the really embarrassing journals to prove it!) I love free verse. I'm fascinated with the idea of trying to tell a story in the least amount of words possible without sparing imagery.

Do you have any advice for young writers?

Write for yourself. Sure, you'll have to write for your teachers  but make sure you take the time to write what you'd like to find on the library shelves. Keep a journal, write email, get a pen pal, make a scrapbook, write the lyrics for a garage band! Just write. A lot. Don't worry about publication either. That's a whole other mess to figure out and what's important for now is that you fall in love with writing itself. And most importantly:  Read, read and re-read. Every writer I know is a voracious book fiend.


From School Library Journal
Grade 4-7–In a series of remarkably candid poems, Anne Marie tells the story of her family's transition from disarray and grief to hope. In Family Portrait, she digs out an old family photograph and angrily cut[s] Dad out/with five quick snips/crumple[s] his face/like an empty gum wrapper,/which is just what he deserves/for leaving/˜my four girls'/two years ago today. The young narrator's poems reflect on her neighborhood, family, and friends, often from the security of her spy tree. There, she and her twin sister share a branch and sometimes different perspectives, particularly about their new stepfather: ˜Maybe/you could take/a chance on Mike, too./He wasn't the one/who ditched us,/you know.' The writing is lyrical yet fresh, as in this description of the cat lady who feeds cats out of her spotted hands,/a quilt of cats/folded around her legs. Glass's remarkable watercolors, sketches, photographs, and collages bring Anne Marie's experiences to life. With each turn of the page, readers encounter delightfully energized illustrations that complement the subject and mood of each poem well. Similar in tone and subject to Vera B. Williams's Amber Was Brave, Essie Was Smart (Greenwillow, 2001), this book would be a valuable addition to most collections.–Lee Bock, Glenbrook Elementary School, Pulaski, WI
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Gr. 3-5. In a series of poems, Anne Marie sketches out her neighborhood, her family, and her story. An identical twin, she endures the usual comments and commonplace disadvantages of being a double, but she also recognizes the rewards of having a "built-in / born-in / look-alike / best friend." Together yet separate, the girls navigate their father's leaving, their mother's remarriage, and the addition of a baby sister to the family. At their best, the poems sharply bring into focus a person, a place, a thought, or a feeling. Together, they chart the shifting movements of Anne Marie's heart, reconciled over time to unwelcome changes and even, eventually, embracing them. At times Glass uses photographs and photo collage in the artwork in an unusually fresh approach to illustration, but it's his deft draftsmanship and creative use of color that give the pictures their staying power. Many of the illustrations seem to glow with infused, colored light that energizes the scenes, while a few pencil sketches bring a scene to life in gray and white. The book uses free verse and freewheeling art with distinction. Carolyn Phelan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

author: Tracie Vaughn Zimmer

illustrator: Andrew Glass

Clarion Books

ISBN-10: 0618234799

ISBN-13: 978-0618234790

Sketches from a Spy Tree

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