Welcome to the Violets Are Blue Blog Tour!
To celebrate the release of Violets Are Blue by Barbara Dee on October 12th, blogs across the web will be featuring exclusive guest posts from Barbara as well as 5 chances to win a signed copy all week long!
by Barbara Dee
I’ve always had drama-envy. In middle school, I remember being in awe of my extroverted classmates who sang and danced onstage in our school’s spring musicals. To me the drama kids seemed like a different species: I couldn’t imagine being one of them, but I wanted to be as close to them as possible. So I did a lot of backstage work, like running props and painting scenery. Nothing glamorous or attention-getting, but I took these roles super-seriously.
I kept up this theater-adjacent path in college, where I reviewed theater productions for the school newspaper. After graduation I took a job teaching high school English and directing plays—most notably, the musical You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. No matter that I couldn’t read music, or sing, or dance—the talented kids listened to the cast album and improvised the rest. So even though I felt a bit like an imposter, directing shows was still a joy, because I got to hang out with the drama kids without being in the spotlight.
I think this longstanding drama-envy led me to writing my 2017 middle grade novel, Star-Crossed, about a bookworm who finds herself recruited to play Romeo when another kid drops out of the show. Writing about Mattie overcoming her self-consciousness about performing (especially opposite her crush!) was certainly a bit of wish-fulfillment for me.
But the truth is, my heart has always been with the backstage kids—the kids who may be as talented and creative as their histrionic classmates, but who may be introverted, or shy, or awkward, or quiet. Or perhaps they have gifts that simply don’t lend themselves to onstage performance.
This is one of the reasons I wrote Violets Are Blue, which is about seventh grader Wren, who’s obsessed with special effects makeup videos. Wren is a natural artist and also an introvert, shaky after having been ostracized in her old town. At her new school, Wren, who can’t act, sing or dance (and doesn’t even like musical theater), has no desire to join the spring production of the musical Wicked. But when her new friend Poppy begs her, and her mom “blackmails” her, Wren reluctantly agrees to do makeup for the show—especially the tricky effects for the green-faced witch, Elphaba.
One of my favorite scenes in the book is another instance of wish-fulfillment—a moment of validation for the perpetual backstage kid. After the drama teacher Ms. Belfonte agrees that Wren can have the position of makeup artist, Wren goes to the lunchroom to tell Poppy the good news. Poppy is sitting with the cool drama kids, who aren’t Wren’s friends—but who congratulate her warmly.
And then Wren has the moment I’d longed for in middle school:
I had a funny feeling right then, like I was floating above the table, looking down at myself. And hearing my own voice saying: See, Wren? This is how it looks when you finally fit in.
“Barbara Dee has done it AGAIN! She tackles tough topics with such great care. She is to middle schoolers today what Judy Blume was to me in the 80’s. I give Violets Are Blue ALL the stars and thumbs up.”
– Amanda Jones, 2021 School Library Journal Co-Librarian of the Year
“[F]requently poignant… With flawed, realistic characters and dynamics, this reconciliatory novel is a believable balm for young people at the mercy of adult choices and scenarios.”
– Publishers Weekly
Twelve-year-old Wren loves makeup—special effect makeup, to be exact. When she is experimenting with new looks, Wren can create a different version of herself. A girl who isn’t in a sort-of-best friendship with someone who seems like she hates her. A girl whose parents aren’t divorced and doesn’t have to learn to like her new stepmom.
So, when Wren and her mom move to a new town for a fresh start, she is cautiously optimistic. And things seem to fall into place when Wren meets potential friends and gets selected as the makeup artist for her school’s upcoming production of Wicked.
Only, Wren’s mom isn’t doing so well. She’s taking a lot of naps, starts snapping at Wren for no reason, and always seems to be sick. And what’s worse, Wren keeps getting hints that things aren’t going well at her new job at the hospital, where her mom is a nurse. And after an opening night disaster leads to a heartbreaking discovery, Wren realizes that her mother has a serious problem—a problem that can’t be wiped away or covered up.
After all the progress she’s made, can Wren start over again with her devastating new normal? And will she ever be able to heal the broken trust with her mom?
Learn how to create the mermaid makeup effect from the cover!:
Barbara Dee is the author of twelve middle grade novels published by Simon & Schuster, including Violets Are Blue, My Life in the Fish Tank, Maybe He Just Likes You, Everything I Know About You, Halfway Normal, and Star-Crossed.
Her books have earned several starred reviews, have been shortlisted for many state book awards, and have been named to best-of lists including The Washington Post’s Best Children’s Books, the ALA Notable Children’s Books, the ALA Rise: A Feminist Book Project List, the NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, and the ALA Rainbow List Top Ten. Barbara lives with her family, including a naughty cat named Luna and a sweet rescue hound named Ripley, in Westchester County, New York.
- One (1) winner will receive a hardcover of Violets Are Blue by Barbara Dee with a SIGNED bookplate
- U.S./Canada only
- Ends 11:59 pm ET on 10/24
- Enter using the Rafflecopter above
- Check out the other stops along the tour for more chances to win!
Blog Tour Schedule:
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.