Are you looking for shivers this spooky season? Today. Encanto meets Coraline in Finch House, a delightfully thrilling middle grade novel by Ciera Burch. I read Finch Housein a day, and I thought it was incredibly spooky, as well as warm and wonderful, and I highly recommend you run out and grab it. Finch House is a gloriously creepy read (but not TOO creepy) with strong characters and an ending that will haunt you -- a perfect read aloud as we head into October.
Ciera Burchis a lifelong writer and ice cream aficionado, who holds a BA from my alma mater, American University, (Go Eagles!) and an MFA from Emerson College. And she would be an excellent choice for the Rick Riordan Presents imprint.
Dr. Diane welcomes listeners to the "Adventures in Learning" podcast.
Introduces today's guest, Ciera Burch, author of "Finch House."
[00:47] **Welcoming Ciera Burch**
Dr. Diane welcomes Ciera to the show and mentions that it's Ciera's book birthday, celebrating the release of "Finch House."
[00:50] **About "Finch House"**
Dr. Diane: Can you share a little bit about Finch House, tell the readers what it's about and what inspired you with the creation of these just fascinating characters.
Ciera: Sure, of course. So Finch House is about a little girl named Micah who discovers a recently renovated old Victorian house in a neighborhood near hers that she's always, never been allowed to go to. But when her grandfather goes missing, she decides to check it out just to see if he's there. And it turns out, once she's inside the house, she believes. And there's been so many inspirations for it, but actually, one of the big ones was my own pop pop, my grandfather. His basement, it's always been a very sort of spooky place, and the door is always open, but it's just always pitch black down there, and it's just like these steps leading straight down. And of course, if you turn on the light, it's perfectly fine. Normal basement. But as a kid, it never seemed like that. And even sometimes as an adult, if you go into the kitchen and it's dark and the door is just open, it can always seem very creepy. That was my initial inspiration. I just wanted to think, know, okay, what if this wasn't actually just a normal basement?
[02:18] **Character Development**
Dr. Diane explores the origins of the book's characters, particularly Micah, and whether she's based on Ciera herself.
Ciera discusses Micah's character, bravery, and influences from her younger family members.
Dr. Diane: Well, and I loved the idea that Finch House contained secrets, that it connects Micah's family’s past and now that she's connected to the boy Theo, who has just moved in and has to live in Finch House. That would be a very scary place to live. And I sort of was wondering, where did these characters come from? You talked about pop pop. Was Micah a little bit like Ciera?
Ciera: Oh, no. Micah's much braver than me. I don't think I would ever do half of the things that she did or go forward deeper into the house. I would definitely have just gone back to my own house. I wouldn't have gone into Finch House to begin with, maybe. But yeah, Micah, I have a lot of little girl cousins, and I don't know what it is about newer generations, but they just seem a little bit braver than I am, perhaps. Or maybe it's just my cousin's personality, but she's sort of like an amalgamation of all of them, and like my little sisters. And also, she just sort of came into my head pretty fully fledged once I had an idea of sort of like a haunted house. She came along pretty quickly as like, a little girl who wanted to explore the haunted house, but also really wanted to find and protect her family.
[03:43] **Balancing Spookiness**
Dr. Diane and Ciera discuss finding the right balance of spookiness in a middle-grade book to appeal to young readers without being too scary.
Dr. Diane: Well, and I loved the spookiness of it. It's just spooky enough that it makes you jump, but it's not so spooky that it puts it out of reach of those middle grade readers.
Ciera: Yeah, I think that was really important for me to find a good balance, especially because, personally, I'm a bit of a scaredy cat.
I like a good spooky atmosphere book, but I don't want to be having nightmares. We're afraid to turn off the light. And so it was important to me to find a good balance, especially for younger kids, to not scare anyone too much.
[04:19] **Open-Ended Ending**
Ciera hints at the open-ended nature of "Finch House" and the possibility of more adventures for Micah.
Dr. Diane appreciates the open-endedness of the book, allowing readers to interpret the outcome.
Dr. Diane: And I'm not going to spoil the ending, but it felt like you left yourself open to potentially write more adventures for Micah.
Ciera: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I loved writing Micah, and I'd be more than happy to write more adventures for her, especially because everything that she goes through really leads to an interesting journey for her personally. But also, I just really love a good ambiguous ending. I don't think perfect happy ever after or, like, terrible disaster. I like it be right in the middle. And I think most of real life is and I think it can feel more realistic in that sense as much as you can with haunted houses.
[05:26] **Reading an Excerpt**
Ciera reads a passage from "Finch House" (Chapter 6) that highlights the characters' curiosity and sense of adventure.
Dr. Diane and Ciera talk about the characters in the excerpt and their reactions to the mysterious staircase.
[07:58] **Ciera's Journey as a Debut Novelist**
Dr. Diane discusses Ciera's experiences, including her recent event at Politics and Prose with Kwame Alexander.
Ciera shares her experience working with Kwame Alexander and his imprint, highlighting his personable nature and insightful questions.
[08:54] **Adventures in Learning**
Dr. Diane asks Ciera about her journey as a writer, including her undergraduate studies at American University and master's degree at Emerson College.
Ciera reflects on how her education influenced her writing journey, including her change of major to literature.
Ciera discusses her internship and work experience in publishing, including her role at Kwame Alexander's imprint.
Dr. Diane: So, Ciera, I want to wind back a little bit and start with the question that I always ask my guests, which is, tell us about your adventures in learning. How did you become the writer you are today? On your web page, which I want people to go and take a look at, you talk about you've always been a lifelong writer and a lifelong ice cream eater. How did those two things come together to shape this book?
Ciera: So I've always been a big reader. My mom really instilled that in me. Growing up, she was a big reader, and so a lot of the time, if it was time for quiet time or she wanted some alone time, she'd just be like, oh, go read a book. And I was perfectly happy to do so. Sometimes we read together, sitting on the couch or something. And not everyone loves doing homework all the time, but my mom was good at like this is the time for homework, and this is the time when you can have fun or have some free time, do what you like. And then if you've done your homework correctly and we've gone over everything together, then maybe you can have some ice cream. Because I've always been a big ice cream lover, and that was a very good incentive for me. Of course, eventually, over time, I learned can't get ice cream for getting every perfect homework assignment or something. But it was a nice sort of motivator.
It was a good sort of motivator where it's like, okay, if I can do the things that might seem hard or that I'm struggling with and I can ask for help with that, or I can just do what I'm good at and get through that and learn as best as I can, maybe there's a reward. But even if there's not, sometimes the reward is having that finish and getting to do your own free time next, which was usually writing.
And so I've always really liked reading, and writing has always gone sort of hand in hand. English and literature were my favorite subjects, along with social studies and history, because both of those also had a lot of reading. I think anything that sort of could be made into a story with history, facts, learning all about the past, or sometimes even the pretty near past, I always thought wasn't thinking of actual historical figures as characters, but because something was different from my own world, I was like, oh, okay, this is really interesting. I would love to know how they did that, or the times of kings and queens or anything that sort of caught my interest through storytelling. With math and science, this is a little harder. Science is a little better because there can be storytelling through the way the body works and how animals are born and how the whole world very much interacts, which I think was fun. Math was always a little difficult for me because it didn't have a storytelling element in my mind, but that doesn't mean I had to work a little bit harder at it if I did want some ice cream.
[15:27] **Upcoming Book**
Ciera talks about her second book, Something Kindred, set to release in 2024, giving a brief overview of the plot.
Dr. Diane: And you have a second book that's due out in 2024, is that correct?
Ciera: I do, yes. It's a YA called Something Kindred, and that's the one that started as my master's thesis, actually a few years ago, and it's been a real fun time shaping it into something that's not a thesis and now a novel.
Dr. Diane: And what's it about?
Ciera: It's about a girl who moves to rural Maryland with her mother to help care for her dying estranged grandmother and comes to terms with a lot of family secrets and more ghosts and a blossoming crush.
[16:07] **Ghosts in Ciera's Books**
Dr. Diane and Ciera discuss the recurring theme of ghosts in Ciera's works and her love for the spooky.
Dr. Diane: Are ghosts going to be in all of our Ciera Burch books?
Ciera: I would love to if no one gets bored of all my ghosts. I don't know. I'm working on some things now that don't have ghosts in them, but still have a sort of creepy factor. And I do love ghosts, so they'll probably appear in most of my work.
[16:35] **Influential Childhood Books**
Ciera mentions some of the books that influenced her as a child, including Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, the Percy Jackson series, and Bridge to Terabithia.
Dr. Diane: So you talked about your love of reading and writing started with your mom, and I was thinking about what were some of the books that influenced you when you were little? What are the ones that you remember as sort of go to?
Ciera: Oh, for sure, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred B. Taylor is probably my favorite book of all time. Well, favorite series, but especially that first book. It was the first time — I think I read it when I was eight or nine, and it was the first time I'd ever really seen a main character like me and my family. And even though it's set in the past, I really deeply connected to it, and I realized, like, oh, I need more books like this, where the characters look like me and maybe act like my family. And that was something that really made me want to write, too, where it's like, oh, I can also write characters that look like me. Definitely Rick Riordan and the Percy Jackson series. I was maybe eleven or twelve when they started to come out, and I really was very much into Greek mythology in my social studies classes. And so I was like, this is like in the real world. I'm still very much a Percy Jackson fan. Also, all the Spinoff series, I own all of them. And Bridge to Terabithia, that was the first book that is like, oh, this can happen. Wow. I think the big emotional catharsis at the end of that book was something I experienced for the first time in reading, especially a kid's book. I was like, oh, my goodness, I'm not sure how to handle this. And there are so many others. There are lots of picture books, too. There's one picture book called I'll Love You Forever that I used to read with my grandmother, and that was always very sweet and emotional to me, and I could just blab on and on about books.
Dr. Diane: Go right ahead. I love it. And as you were talking, I was thinking about Percy Jackson. I love every one of the books you've listed. But have you seen the spinoffs that his imprint is doing where he's bringing in other writers and they're doing mythology from around the world and from different cultures?
Ciera: Yes, I have. I love them. It's like a really great idea in a way to really incorporate diversity and the mythology of other cultures. I secretly really want to be one of the writers, for one.
Dr. Diane: I was kind of wishing that into existence for you, as you were saying that, because I love that imprint and I could see your voice fitting beautifully in sort of that storytelling world. So, Rick, if you're listening, we think Ciera should be one of your authors!
[18:10] **Diverse Voices in Literature**
Dr. Diane and Ciera discuss the importance of diverse representation in children's literature and the concept of "windows and mirrors."
Ciera shares her motivation for including black or brown main characters in her stories and emphasizes the importance of creating relatable, human characters.
Dr. Diane: Something else you said sort of got me thinking as well when you talked about Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry. I currently work with students at Shenandoah and at UVA and I work with teachers around the country. And one of the things that we talk about that's so important is this idea of windows and mirrors, which Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop pioneered in the 1990s, that it's critical that kids see themselves in all of their possibilities, not just the single story, so that would be the mirror. And then have these windows into other people's experiences and other people's cultures. And so I love the fact that you kind of brought that up as being one of your driving connections for writing. Does it create extra pressure for you? Do you feel like you're having to write to sort of hold up these windows and mirrors for kids like you who might not have had those growing up?
Ciera: Creates extra pressure? I think it just creates extra motivation. I think it's an important thing to be able to see yourself in all types of media and to see people who are not like you so that you can better learn empathy and learn relate to people. I think anything that I write, it's probably going to have a black or brown main character because it's important to me personally. And so I don't think it's too much pressure. Sometimes it feels like I should write a certain thing or a character a certain way, but I don't.
I try to make my characters as human as possible and I try to write what I want to write for the most part in hope that others will come to it because it's something that they can relate to or just something that they are interested in well.
Dr. Diane: And I think that you write with such an engaging voice that it's so easy to become captivated within your story. And I'm looking forward to seeing how teachers pick up Finch House and start using it, hopefully for read alouds. But I could see all kinds of spin off writing assignments. I could see STEM and STEAM connections as well, where perhaps they try to illuminate the dark or find a way to help the characters escape the house. I mean, there are all kinds of cool challenges you could do with it. So I hope that it will become one of those books that teachers are using in their classroom to hold up windows and mirrors as well.
Ciera: Wow. Thank you. I hope so too. That would be great.
[20:42] **Joys of Being a Writer**
Ciera expresses her joy in making up stories for a living and working with her publishing team.
[21:24] **Full-Time Writing**
Ciera talks about her transition to full-time writing and her hopes for the future of her writing career.
[22:45] **Hopes for the Future**
Ciera's aspirations include reaching a global audience, getting her work translated into other languages, and continuing to tell stories.
[23:31] **Closing Remarks**
Dr. Diane thanks Ciera for being a delightful guest and encourages listeners to grab a copy of "Finch House" for a spooky October read.
Finch House is out this month. Go get a copy. You are going to love this book. It's perfect, it's spooky, and it's a great one to read aloud in October in your classes as we gear up towards Halloween.