The month of June is dedicated to our favorite Sporty Girl reads. No Cream Puffs is the realistic fiction story of 12-year-old Madison Mitchell. Madison is the first girl to play baseball on an all-boys' little league team in Michigan. Although the book takes place in the 1970s, I thought that the story could easily have taken place in modern times where there are still many places where girls are alone playing ball with the boys.
I was very excited that the author, Karen Day, was available for an interview to help us with our launch.
What attracts you to stories about girls that play sports? Were you a sporty girl?
Yes, I was a sporty girl. Football, baseball, basketball, volleyball, tennis – I played most anything with a ball! Sports came easily to me. I could watch someone throw a ball, and my body seemed to understand intuitively how to do it. At age 12, I started traveling around the Midwest playing USTA tennis tournaments. Until I was 18, tennis was the primary focus of my life. But I think what draws me to stories about girls and sports is not so much the actual playing of the sport. It’s the internal drama sports can create. And of course the dynamics off court. I remember traveling the tennis circuit as a kid and being more fascinated by a particular girl’s crazy, overbearing father than I was with figuring out how to beat her. Maybe that’s why my tennis career fizzled over time!
Do you play still play baseball? If not, how did you write your baseball scenes?
I no longer play baseball. But like Madison, I was the first girl to play on an all-boy little league team when I was 12. I took a lot of what happened to me and put it into the book. Like Madison, I was a pitcher and batted clean up. And like Madison, I had a dramatic final game where I struck out the star of little league. However, I had more trouble writing the playing scenes than I did with any other part. My editor, Wendy Lamb, had me add more details to these parts. Again, what interested me most were the inner conflicts Madison felt and the dynamics that her playing created off the field.
Why did you decide to set No Cream Puffs in the 70s?
In 1972 Title IX, the landmark legislation that required gender equality for boys and girls in public schools, was put into law. This meant that schools had to start offering equal sporting opportunities for girls. Which was great! But it would be a long time before this equality trickled down to recreational sporting opportunities. If a girl in the late 1970s wanted to play on a summer baseball team, she had to play with the boys. And so I wanted to write about what it would be like to be the “first” girl to do this. I also wanted to write about the Iranian hostage crisis so it was important that the novel took place while the hostages were still being held. That’s why I settled on summer of 1980.
Even though No Cream Puffs is a baseball book, it's about so much more than baseball. How did you decide how much actual playing baseball to include?
Well, deciding how much baseball to include was certainly a challenge. From the beginning I knew that Madison would strike out her nemesis, Billy, at the end of the book. But before this I had limited baseball scenes. Wendy and I talked through the plot and she suggested that I add more drama on the field. We came up with a new character, Randy. And I was conscious of drawing out the games a bit more. She really helped me see that the actual playing could be one of the stronger themes in the book.
What would you say to the girls out there who are still having trouble finding opportunities to play baseball?
I wish I had an answer for this! Over the years I’ve met many girls who played on boys’ little league teams. And I know that today it’s not unusual for girls to play on all-boy basketball teams, too. But I imagine that it’s still not so easy to do this. It takes a lot of physical and emotional strength to be the only girl out there with the boys. So, if you are tough enough, playing with the boys is a good option. To tell you the truth, I don’t understand why girls’ baseball never took off. Why softball? Why do boys play baseball and girls play softball?
Do you have any favorite sporty girl reads?
Yes! My all-time favorite sporty girl read is Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. This is a novel about 15-year-old D.J. who lives on a farm in Wisconsin and ends up playing football on the all-boy team at her school. We’re inside D.J.’s head as she’s going through this experience. It’s just a wonderful read – so true to life. And hilarious. I can’t recommend this novel enough.
You mentioned at a conference that you are currently working on another novel with a sporty girl main character. Can you tell us about it?
This is a novel I started 10 years ago but only recently figured out exactly what I want to say. It’s the story of two sisters – our narrator, Martha (age 13) and her older sister Jane (age 16). Jane is a star diver who is going through a crisis and doesn’t know if she wants to dive anymore. Martha observes what’s going on and becomes Jane’s confidant. It’s a story about what happens to a family when too much pressure, too much emphasis, is put on a particular family member. I see this scenario played out across all kinds of sports these days. Should children be encouraged to specialize in a single sport at such a young age? What happens when the pressure becomes too much? What role do media and expectations play? What role do helicopter parents play? How do siblings handle all of the attention given to the star? These are some of the questions I explore. Like No Cream Puffs, it’s a novel that addresses the inner conflicts and external dynamics that sports create.
One lucky follower will win a copy of No Cream Puffs along with some other great prizes. Make sure to fill out the rafflecopter on the sidebar to enter. For more information on Karen Day and her books, visit her website.