Ruby has always been a little bit different. She hears the very voice of
nature in the trees, birds, and butterflies of her New Orleans home.
Ruby is used to having her “strange” ideas dismissed by her classmates,
neighbors, and even her stern grandmother, Mammaloose.
But one day Ruby learns that a big storm is coming and her problem of being misunderstood becomes a
deep fear that she won’t be able to save the people she loves. Along the way, a mystery from Ruby’s past
begins to unravel, and she faces new truths about the world she thought she knew.
Ruby’s Imagine (Houghton Mifflin; September 2008) is a poignant, heart-wrenching novel that
introduces a truly unique protagonist. Author Kim Antieau perfectly captures the sights, smells, sounds
and voices of New Orleans as she movingly depicts one of the darkest moments in recent American
history, and the story of a girl coming into her own.
How did you become a writer, and what interested you in the profession?
As soon as I could read and write, I started writing my own stories. I loved expressing myself through stories. I liked creating relationships with my characters. I liked being in the worlds I wrote about. When I saw the world through the eyes of my characters, I understood life better. Why did I start writing professionally? It was always my goal to publish and have other people read my stories. I loved Emily Dickinson’s poetry when I was young (still do), but I remember thinking that I didn’t want to be like her. I wasn’t writing my stories to put away in a drawer; I wanted people to read them.
What were your favorite books as a young reader?
I loved fairy tales and history books. I read Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Andersen’s Fairy Tales over and over. I loved nearly any history book. I remember sleeping with Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty under my pillow in the hopes I would dream about it because I loved it so much. I loved, loved, loved the Little House on the Prairie series. Loved The Swiss Family Robinson. I read a lot! As time went on, I became horse crazy so I loved any horse books, especially the Walter Farley Black Stallion books. I loved the Narnia books, Charles Dickens, Jules Verne, Victor Hugo, and Alexander Dumas—although I never actually finished a single Jules Verne, Victor Hugo, or Alexander Dumas novel! Anyway, I loved books and I loved stories.
How did you create the character of Ruby? What inspired her?
Almost as soon as I learned about Hurricane Katrina, I saw a group of survivors in my mind’s eye coming together to help each other after the storm. My coping skills involve my imagination. I couldn’t help the people in New Orleans, but I could write a story. Ruby came into my imagination, speaking her own special dialect—the dialect of a child of the world—and I wrote her story as though she were telling it to me.
Ruby reminded me of Opal Whiteley, a girl who lived in the Pacific Northwest in the early part of the twentieth century; she had an uncommon connection to nature and a unique way of speaking and writing. She believed in fairies and talked to the trees, the creeks, the animals. (Something I did as a child, too. Well, actually, I still do it.) She and Ruby would have been kindred spirits, no doubt, if they had ever met. When my best friend, Linda Ford, was ill, I sat by her bed and read her passages from Opal, a compilation of Opal’s diaries. Opal brought my friend great comfort. I promised Linda that one day I would write a book that honored her and Opal. I hope that Ruby’s Imagine does that.
Did you do a lot of research into Hurricane Katrina for the book?
I researched Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath for a year before I wrote the story. I wanted to make sure I had the facts right about what happened before, during, and after the hurricane. I hope this story helps in some small measure for the people of New Orleans to know they haven’t been forgotten. I was born in Louisiana, so that part of the country holds a special place in my heart.
Ruby has such a unique way of expressing herself. How did come up with her voice?
She just came to me talking like that! As I mentioned above, I was inspired by the life of Opal Whiteley and her unique connection with the world around her.
What do you think are Ruby’s best and worst qualities?
I don’t think Ruby has any bad qualities. She is so connected to her world, to the people and the animals and the trees. She knows her place in this world, and she understands the language of everything! I think that’s wonderful. She is loving and resourceful. She doesn’t always have confidence in herself, although her confidence and self-esteem grows over time.
What do you hope your readers will learn from Ruby’s story?
I hope they enjoy Ruby’s story. I suppose I hope that they’ll realize it’s all right to be an individual, like Ruby, who has her own way of being in the world. We’re not all alike, and that’s a good thing. Ruby is a beautiful person. She hears the voices of the world, the visible and the invisible. She gets little encouragement from her family—to put it mildly—yet she doesn’t curl up and die: She becomes more and more herself. I think that’s the challenge of all of us. We need to fill up with ourselves, to be full of ourselves, not full of what big business is trying to sell us or what the culture says we should be. We need to figure out who we are and then we need to be that!
What was the most surprising thing you learned while writing this book?
I learned so many surprising and awful things writing this book. I saw how inept the local and federal governments were when it came to this kind of disaster. And I learned that most of the people who died were the elderly who were too poor and/or too fragile to leave their homes.
And last, to borrow a question from your website, what would you have done if you found yourself in Ruby’s situation?
Knock on wood, I seem to respond fairly well to emergency situations. As long as the people I love are safe, I can figure out things and get things done. But, if I’d been Ruby’s age with her resources, I don’t know what I would have done. I hope that I could have done as well as she did!
"Rich language and a unique perspective hint at the magic that exists just below the surface of everyday life."—Kirkus Reviews