Rescue at Lake Wild by Terry Lynn Johnson was displayed on the shelf just below my novel Lost on the Prairie when it first went on sale at McNally Robinson Booksellers at the beginning of May. I was delighted to see my book in the company of a novel by such an accomplished Canadian middle-grade author as Terry Lynn Johnson and even more excited when I discovered she was going to be a guest at the Middle-Grade Literature Book Club I participate in each month.
Last night at our August meeting I got to meet Terry and listen to her talk about her ninth book Rescue at Lake Wild which tells the story of a girl named Madison who rescues a pair of beaver kits. Terry is a conservation officer in northern Ontario and her work with animals was the inspiration for Rescue at Lake Wild.
During our book club meeting with Terry, we discovered that she loved watching David Suzuki’s show The Nature of Things when she was a child and remembers one episode, in particular, that was about beavers and the way they interact with humans. Early in her career as a conservation officer, Terry spent time working with a woman who was a wildlife rehabilitator. Her funny stories about the beavers in her care inspired Terry.
In Rescue at Lake Wild, the hero Madi’s crusade to save the two small beavers is inspired by her grandmother who was a wildlife rehabilitator. Nana has died but taught Madi so much about caring for animals and has left Madi her supplies and notes. I really liked Nana and even though she wasn’t alive in the book I thought about what a close relationship she and Madi must have had with each other. As a grandmother myself it made me think about how our relationship with our grandchildren can have a lasting impact on their lives.
It was interesting to hear Terry say that Madi the main character in Rescue at Lake Wild is the character in her books that is most like her. We also learned that Jane Goodall who is world-renowned for her study of chimpanzees, and who Madi dreams of meeting in the book, is someone Terry would love to meet as well. Madi does not get a chance to meet Jane in Rescue at Lake Wild but Terry hinted that if she writes a sequel to the novel that might just happen.
I was having breakfast with Manitoba poet Joanne Epp last week and she was curious about some qualities that are essential in writing for a middle-grade audience. I used examples from Terry’s book which I had just read to explain.
A middle-grade book needs lots of action and Terry’s novel has that. It starts off with a bang as Madi does a dark and dangerous dive into a beaver lodge to save the two little orphaned kits whose mother and father have been shot. Madi must go to great lengths to hide the kits from her own parents at the same time as she tries to solve the mystery of who shot the beavers and keep at bay a nosy older sister who knows about the beaver kits and is constantly threatening to reveal Madi’s secret.
The second quality in a good middle-grade novel is that the young protagonists must untangle the conflicts in the novel, not adults. And that certainly happens in Rescue at Lake Wild. It is Madi and her best friends Aaron and Jack who end up solving the mystery and saving the beavers.
Finally, a speaker at a children’s writing conference once told me that near the beginning of a middle-grade book there must be some reference to poop or pee. I made sure that happened in my novel and Terry does too with a funny scene where Madison is trying to get the beaver kits to ‘do their business’. After plopping them into a Rubbermaid tub full of water they finally poop.
Terry’s novel Rescue at Lake Wild provides a master class in writing for a middle-grade audience. I also learned from our visit with Terry last night that she has made hundreds of virtual visits to classrooms something I hope to do this coming year as well.
I love the fact that I shared a set of shelves with Terry Lynn Johnson at McNally Robinson Booksellers and I loved her book Rescue at Lake Wild. I can recommend it for adults who’d like to learn more about beavers as well as any middle-grade readers they might have in their lives.