Roller Girl, the children’s graphic novel, written by Portland author and mother, Victoria Jamieson, tells the story of Astrid, a young girl who falls in love with playing roller derby and the positive ways in which it impacts her life. The story centers on Portland’s league, the Rose City Rollers, and features familiar bridges and scenes, as well as a few local derby athletes, within the pages. Roller Girl has been on the NY Times Bestseller List for 17 weeks and recently won the Newbery Medal of Honor. Her second book, The Great Pet Escape, was just released this week. Here’s what we found out when we caught up with Jamieson.
RT: What’s your background?
I grew up on the East Coast—first in Philly, and then in Florida. My mom worked both as a children’s librarian and an elementary school art teacher, so my brothers and I were constantly surrounded by books and art supplies—there was no escaping it! I always loved coloring books and drawing, and I just kept doing it.
My family moved to Florida when I was 12, and visits to Disney World convinced me I wanted to be a Disney animator. I went to the Rhode Island School of Design intending to major in Animation. My first few classes cured me of that, though! Animation required long, solitary hours, and I didn’t have the patience for it. I majored in Illustration instead.
After graduation I worked odd jobs in odd places (a cruise ship, a shopping mall in Montreal, a restaurant on Shark Beach in Australia). Eventually I landed in New York, where I got a job as a design assistant with HarperCollins Publishers. In 2009, my husband and I moved to Portland, and I’ve been writing books ever since.
photo: Suzie Ridgway
RT: What was your motivation for writing Roller Girl?
I discovered roller derby in 2008 and immediately fell in love. After moving to Portland, my first priority after finding an apartment was to join the Rose City Rollers. I love everything about roller derby—the players, the comradery, the sport itself. I learned so much about myself playing roller derby and coaching others. I knew I wanted to write a book about roller derby eventually. At the same time, graphic novels for children were becoming more and more popular. The two seemed a perfect match.
RT: What did it feel like to win the Newbery Medal? How did you hear of the news, how did you celebrate?
Winning that award was… amazing. Surreal. I knew that the awards were announced that day (January 11th, the day after my birthday). Roller Girl had received many kind reviews, and I’d heard the words “Roller Girl” and “Newbery” together enough to get a little nervous about the announcements. There’s no shortlist like for the Oscars, however, so I really had no idea if it was even being considered by the committee, and I tried very hard not to get my hopes up.
The “call” goes out very early in the morning to the recipients. The convention was in Boston this year, so they called me at 6:30 a.m. EST, which was of course 3:30 a.m. here. I had just fallen asleep after feeding the baby. I then woke the baby with my screeches and my laughter. But it was worth it.
RT: How do you balance work/life with a little one?
This is a tough one—I’m still trying to figure it out. He is 16 months old. He is in daycare part-time, and I treat those precious hours like gold. No phone calls, no goofing around on the internet- straight to work. Same thing when he goes down for a nap. I don’t care if I’m in the middle of cooking dinner- if I have an hour or two I use it. I also try to work after he goes to bed at 7:30 or 8, but lack of sleep sometimes gets the better of me in the form of sickness or unbearable grumpiness. I basically have no social life.
RT: Any advice for moms who think they have a good idea for a children’s story?
My advice for anyone with an idea for a children’s book is to DO IT! The world needs more stories. My second piece of advice is to educate yourself about the business. A wonderful resource for this is SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). It’s an international organization and the Portland chapter is just wonderful. They offer workshops and critiques throughout the year, and a big conference once a year in the spring (registration just opened for this).
Also, not to sound too self-serving, but I teach a Continuing Education course in Writing & Illustrating Children’s Books at Pacific Northwest College of Art. The next one starts April 2nd. Everyone is welcome, no matter your experience or skill level. And lastly, I would recommend attending events at our wonderful Portland children’s book stores: Green Bean Books, A Children’s Place, Annie Bloom’s and of course Powell’s. Portland has a very vibrant and welcoming group of children’s book writers and illustrators—join us!
RT: What’s next?
I’m working on my next graphic novels now. My newest graphic novel, The Great Pet Escape, was just released on February 16th. It’s about classroom pets running amok in a school at night. I’m currently writing my next graphic novel for middle grade readers. It’s not a sequel to Roller Girl, but I hope the same audiences will enjoy it.
Find out more about Victoria Jamieson online at victoriajamieson.com.
Every child who picks up this book cannot put it down until they have read it from cover to cover. Have your kids read Roller Girl? Let us know in the comments below!