KIM BAKER BIO: Kim's first book, Pickle, has been selected for many reading lists and was a finalist for the CBC Children's Choice Book of the Year and the Texas Bluebonnet Award. When she was 13, she lived above an old movie theater and drove a rusty VW van for odd jobs. Now she and her family live in Seattle near beaches and tide pools, but usually far from bears.
ABOUT THE WATER BEARS: Newt Gomez has a thing with bears. Last year he survived a bear attack. And this year, he finds an unusual bear statue that just might grant wishes. Newt's best friend, Ethan, notices a wishbone on the statue and decides to make a wish. When it comes true, Newt thinks it's a coincidence. Even as more people wish on the bear and their wishes come true, Newt is not convinced. But Newt has a wish too: while he loves his home on eccentric Murphy Island, he wants to go to middle school on the mainland, where his warm extended family lives. There, he's not the only Latinx kid, he won't have to drive the former taco truck--a gift from his parents--and he won't have to perform in the talent show. Most importantly, on the mainland, he never has bad dreams about the attack. Newt is almost ready to make a secret wish when everything changes.
AN INTERVIEW WITH KIM BAKER
Can you tell us a little bit about the themes of friendship, belonging and growing up as explored in your book, The Water Bears?
I don’t think about themes in a story while I’m drafting. Once I’m ready to revise I consider what the themes may be and how I might make them stronger. The main character, Newt, isn’t sure where he belongs, and that makes it hard for him to connect with people. I think everybody feels like that, because we’re all different from each other. I wanted to show how Newt becomes comfortable being himself and loving others for who they are, because stories about courage and love are my favorite.
Please share with us the science about tiny water bears?
Water Bears are the coolest! Water bears, or tardigrades, have been around about 600 million years and they can live pretty much anywhere. Like, anywhere. They’ve been found on volcanoes and deep in the ice of Antarctica, and they’re probably in the rain gutters around your house and other mossy places. They can survive anything too, even going to outer space! Their metabolism slows down to less than one percent and they go into a kind of hibernation. When things get better, they perk up again. They’re a little bigger than a grain of salt, so you might be able to spot some outside and behold one of the toughest organisms on Earth.
What elements of Latinx culture have you brought into this story?
I’ve brought details and memories of my own family. One of my favorite things as a kid and now is when our extended family gathers at someone’s house, usually a grandparent, aunt, or uncle, to eat, laugh, and catch up. It’s wonderful chaos. Newt’s favorite foods are my favorite foods. When he gets sick, he wants fideo, which is like a cross between Spanish rice and spaghetti. His grandma keeps pan dulce (Mexican sweet bread) in a plastic container just like my Aunt Molly. And his parents call him mijo, just like I call my son.
What inspired you to write about such a traumatic event, a young boy surviving an attack by a bear?
I grew up in the mountains, so I’ve always been a little afraid of being attacked by a bear. They’ve always been nearby and it’s possible…but not probable, especially if you’re responsible and bear safe. Most kids won’t be attacked by a bear, thank goodness, but everybody will have hardship and pain that they need to find out how to get through, heal, and grow. I wanted to explore that in a story. Like water bears, we are capable of adapting and surviving extraordinary things.
You are an author and a teacher. What do you suggest to young writers who want to become published authors?
I always say the two things you need to be a writer are curiosity and practice. One of my favorite quotes about writing is from E.B. White, who wrote Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. He said, “All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.” I’ve been thinking about that a lot this year. Write what you love about the world and people. Think of the kind of story you enjoy and combine it with something you love that you haven’t seen in a story yet. For me this time, it was a Latinx family and some maybe-magic. For you, it might be a mystery with horses, or robot squirrels on a quest, or…? Keep being curious and wondering about the world around you. Read what you can. People watch. Explore new interests. Ask yourself those “What if…” questions every opportunity you get and the story ideas will come. You can develop that creative muscle until you know with intuition what will make a good story. I call them sticky ideas. One will combine with another until a plot starts to form. And keep a notebook to fearlessly write everything down. There is nothing worse than that feeling in your gut that you had a really good idea…that you can’t remember. Just keep writing what you love about the world.