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By Suzanne Selfors
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction
Curriculum Subject: Animals, Character Development, Friendship
In Spirit Riding Free: Lucky and the Mustangs of Miradero, we see Lucky and the town preparing for a big winter storm. How did this concept develop? What research and preparation did you do on this time period in order to portray the theme of winter in the wild west?
Since the first book takes place in the spring, I thought it would be fun to have the second book take place in winter. I had to do a lot of research. I live in the Pacific Northwest, so I had to find out what sorts of plants and animals are native to the Arizona high desert (which is basically where the story takes place in my mind.) I had to study weather patterns. I’d already been doing a lot of research on wild mustangs but now I needed to find out what sorts of plants they’d eat in the winter. When Turo is putting winter shoes on the horses, that’s based on an old article someone wrote about how his great grandparents prepared their horses for winter. I also had to research sleighs and how they work. It was fun, like being a detective.
The chapters from Spirit’s point of view, give the reader a chance to read about Spirit when he’s not with Lucky in Miradero. In this book, we get to read about not only Spirit, but, Spirit’s sister and another family member. Was it hard to craft Spirit’s feelings and perspective during these chapters? Did you enjoy introducing more of Spirit’s family to the story?
The main job of every writer is to get into the character’s head. So for me, not only did I need to try to understand Lucky’s feelings, but I also had to imagine what it would be like to be a horse. I can’t really know how a horse “thinks”, but I can know how a horse feels. Because as mammals, we have the same feelings of fear, of love, or curiosity. So when I write the story in Spirit’s voice, I simply tap into those emotions. It was fun giving him a sister and showing the bond between them. It doesn’t matter if you have two legs or four, we all want to take care and protect those we love.
Lucky continues to keep in touch with her friend Emma from back east, through letters. Did you have a pen pal or friend that lived far away that you kept in contact with as a kid?
When I was in second grade, and a Blue Bird (similar to being a Girl Scout), the members of my troop were assigned pen pals with another troop all the way across the country. And so, for that year, we wrote letters back and forth. We didn’t have computers in those days, or cell phones, so everyone wrote letters. Her name was Karen and I kept writing to her until middle school, so in some ways, we grew up together. We never met but getting her letter ever month was always something I looked forward to.
Jim is a single man in Miradero which many people in the town are noticing. Why is Lucky so upset that her father is consisted an eligible bachelor?
For most of Lucky’s life, it’s been her and her dad. The two of them, side by side, a true team. And that is what Lucky is used to. That is what makes sense to her. So when various people start using the term “eligible bachelor” Lucky’s first reaction is fear. She knows that if her father falls in love and gets married, then it won’t be just the two of them anymore. She doesn’t want things to change with her father. She wants to keep him all to herself. I think that’s a natural reaction. As the story progresses, Lucky begins to feel less afraid and realizes that even if her father begins to love someone new, his love for his daughter will never change.
Pru and Maricela have a rivalry going on between them. We learn that one of the reasons for the rivalry is because Maricela is struggling with feelings of being left out. What advice would you give to kids who feel like Maricela?
Everyone feels left out. That’s the big truth. Even the popular kids. Even the star of the school play. Even the kid who wins an award in an art contest. Even I feel left out sometimes! It’s a natural feeling.
What we need to remember is that it doesn’t matter how many friends we have, what matters is that the one best friend, or the two best friends, are people we enjoy being with, people who are kind and who we can laugh with. It was natural for Pru and Abigail to be friends because they are both crazy about horses. I think the best way to make a friend is to find someone who likes doing the same thing you like doing. Most of my friends are writers!
Lucky is a bit of a risk taker, especially when she goes off after Pru and Abigail in the first book, and now, she runs off to help Spirit, when she’s told to stay in town. Why do think Lucky takes these big risks? Would you consider yourself a risk taker like Lucky?
I don’t think Lucky is saying to herself, “Wow, I’m taking a big risk.” She’s the kind of person who doesn’t always worry about herself and she often listens to her heart, which guides her to help people or animals in need, even if the situation is dangerous. So she acts with her heart, before she thinks with her head.
I don’t think I’m a risk taker. I don’t ride wild horses across the prairie. But I sure like writing about people who do!
The book has a strong message of friendship between people and people to animals. What other messages do you hope readers will take away from this series?
I hope my readers will embrace the truth that kindness can change world. Being kind to animals makes you a better person. Being kind to the school bully might be the simple act that changes that bully’s life. If we treat all living creatures with kindness, then can you imagine what possibilities await us?