Amanda Cleary Eastep is a middle grade kids/children’s author. Amanda knows kids because she’s still one at heart. When she is forced to act like an adult, she edits nonfiction books by grownup authors. In her much-anticipated series debut, the Tree Street Kids, Amanda introduces readers to her amazing characters Jack, Ellison, Roger, Ruthie, and little sister Midge in Jack vs the Tornado, the first book in the series. Readers will quickly connect with this loveable band of friends and finding out how they came together on Cherry, Oak, Maple, and Pine Street. Set in a 1990s suburban neighborhood, and located in the Chicagoland area, the characters find adventures, challenges, and God’s great big love in their own small neighborhood.
FF: The first book in The Tree Street Kids Series is Jack vs. the Tornado. Introduce us to Jack and tell us how he ends up leaving the farm and heading to the Chicago suburbs.
Jack Finch and his family (his parents, and his little sister Midge) have always lived with his grandparents in their farmhouse. But the farm is getting to be “too much,” as grownups say, and his grandparents have decided to sell it. Jack’s dad also has to travel for work, so his parents buy a small house in the south suburbs of Chicago. On Jack’s 10th birthday, he’s faced with leaving everything he’s ever known.
FF: Jack had a hard time leaving the farm, and one of the things he struggled to leave behind was Henrietta. Who is she and why is she important to Jack?
Henrietta is Jack’s pet chicken and just one of the beloved things, along with his hayloft fort, he’ll have to leave behind. My editor, Marianne Hering (who is also the author of many of the Imagination Station books), told me I needed to add an animal to the beginning of the book. Tossing a chicken into the mix (not the Shake ‘n Bake kind) heightened the tension and raised the stakes. That relationship helped develop the compassionate side of Jack and should help readers to more quickly empathize with him.
FF: Jack’s dad goes away to do his contracting job, which adds another difficult element to Jack’s life. What prompted you to make that decision about Jack’s dad?
Jack’s dad having to be away all week for a contracting job is another challenge that Jack has to work around and a choice I made to help develop his character. In addition, the absence of a parent is sadly a common scenario in lots of children’s lives for various reasons, especially today. Mr. Finch isn’t completely out of the picture and communicates with his family as much as he can. It’s the mid-90s, so that means calls to landline phones and no immediate access to each other…something very foreign to kids’ now.
FF: The books are set in the Chicagoland area. Why did you set the book in a suburban neighborhood?
By setting the books in the Chicago suburbs I accomplish a couple things. First, I’m writing what I know. My characters have some traits and experiences in common with my own children who were raised in the suburbs in the ’90s. I was raised in a farm town far south of Chicago, and my parents were born and raised in the city. I also attended college and work/ed in Chicago. Second, these varied settings allow the characters to have varied experiences throughout the series that will resonate with different readers.
FF: The books include illustrations, why the need for illustrations?
Kids love illustrations, and we planned from the start to include at least a few. My own reluctant readers grew up on graphic novels, especially comic books and Japanese anime, and I’m a huge fan of picture books, as well as maps in books. Illustrations also help to keep text-heavy explanations to a minimum. The cover art and interior line drawings are by Aedan Peterson. Also, throughout the books are Midge’s Phenomenal Facts, Ellison’s Bookmark, and Roger’s Riveting History notes. I didn’t want these fun facts to end up as footnotes though. Moody’s designers came up with the coolest idea: each fact looks as if it’s handwritten on a notecard and “taped” onto the page.
FF: The hayloft door that was in the barn where the tornado hit had Hebrews 11:9 carved into it. What was the significance of that scripture on the hayloft door?
Hebrews 11:9, the verse carved into the hayloft door, is one of the foundational verses of the story. “By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.” Jack’s grandfather carved it into the door he had built himself years ago. It speaks to Jack, and the whole family really, of believing and trusting God when he has to leave his home.
FF: In addition to Jack vs. the Tornado, you have also released the second book in the series, The Hunt for Fang. Can you give us a sneak peek?
Both Jack vs. the Tornado (book 1) and The Hunt for Fang (book 2) were released simultaneously on April 6, 2021. (Books 3 and 4 will be released together in summer 2022). The theme of Hunt is stewardship of God’s creation. I was inspired by many years of hiking the forest preserves with my daughters and by my elder daughter’s studies of the suburban coyote population for her master’s degree studies in environmental biology. In this book, Jack and the other Tree Street Kids learn some survival skills at the church’s summer camp. They end up needing them. Sure that “Fang,” the local wildlife is the enemy, Jack becomes determined to protect his new dog. When Ruthie’s Mr. Beans, Ruthie’s cat, goes missing, the kids head deep into the woods, only to realize someone else has gone missing.
The Tree Street Kids live on Cherry, Oak, Maple, and Pine, but their 1990s suburban neighborhood is more than just quiet, tree-lined streets. Jack, Ellison, Roger, and Ruthie face challenges and find adventures in every creek and cul-de-sac—as well as God’s great love in one small neighborhood.
In Jack vs the Tornado, the first book of the Tree Street Kids Series, 10-year-old Jack is shocked to discover his parents are moving from their rural homestead to the boring suburbs of Chicago. Full of energy and determination, Jack devises a plan to get himself back to his beloved farmhouse forever. Only three things stand in his way: a neighbor in need, a shocking discovery, and tornado season. Will Jack find a solution? Or is God up to something bigger than Jack can possibly imagine?
Jack vs. the Tornado
Tree Street Kids #1
Amanda Cleary Eastep
Genres: Middle Grade Kids, Children’s
ISBN-10 : 0802421024
ISBN-13 : 978-0802421029
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