Author Chat with Jamie Sumner!
Featuring her book, Roll With It
I recently finished reading the middle-grade book, Roll With It by Jamie Sumner. This lovely story follows twelve-year-old Ellie — an irrepressible girl with cerebral palsy whose life takes an unexpected turn when she moves to a new town.
The book is beautifully written, full of heart and charm. Ellie is snarky and vulnerable and has a penchant for baking. She’s also dynamic and reflective and delightfully relatable. For fans of middle-grade stories, Jamie Sumner’s books are definitely ones to keep an eye out for!
After reading, I immediately messaged Jamie to see if she’d be willing to chat with us. And she was! It’s was such an honour to hear more about Roll With It (and see what she’s working on next.) Hope you enjoy!
52 Book Club: Hi Jamie, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview!
I’ve been following along with your journey ever since your non-fiction motherhood book, Unbound. I recently had the chance to read your MG debut novel, Roll With It, and absolutely loved it! There is so much heart and depth to this book. For readers new to your story, can you share a little bit about your inspiration behind it all?
Jamie: That’s a great question and the first one I get when I do school visits because Ellie, the main character in Roll With It, has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair. Kids are always curious how I came to write her. My son Charlie who is nine, also has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. When he first began school, I looked in the library and noticed none of the books featured kids like him. Zero. There were a couple that had a child in a wheelchair as a side character, but they existed mainly as props for the main character. I didn’t want Charlie to feel like a secondary actor in his own life! Kids like him need to be the hero of the story because every kid wants, needs, and deserves to be celebrated and seen.
At the back of your book, you mention the statistic that 1 in 7 children are living with a disability. The fact that kids can read your book and see themselves on the cover is amazing and so very needed. What are some things that you hope readers (of all ages) take away from this story?
Jamie: I hope we (kids and grownups alike) can see that different is special. Different is awesome. Different doesn’t have to be hard. And different certainly shouldn’t stop you from doing what you love and building a life that lets you thrive. I also think the BEST people are the ones who can step out of their own story and imagine themselves in someone else’s. It’s not just about teaching sympathy and empathy. It’s about the ability to forget yourself for a few minutes and look outward at the people around you.
Roll With It has received a ton of well-deserved attention and awards. So first of all — congratulations! As an author, what is your favourite part of writing (or releasing) a new book?
Jamie: First of all, thank you! It has been a whirlwind and I am so grateful.
My favorite part of writing is the all-encompassing thrall of the first draft. I lose myself in it. I write fast. And I take breaks only to feed myself and my family and to sleep (but even then I wake in the night and text myself things). It’s that season where time gets slippery and the characters become more real than reality and it feels like magic. Don’t ask me about the second and third and fourth drafts though! Those are much more like spackling drywall than making magic.
I also love when a book comes out and I get to visit schools and speak with students and see their excited faces and hear all their wonderful and weird questions.
You have a whole cast of incredible characters in this novel. I especially loved Ellie’s friends Coralee and Bert. (I’m personally rooting for a spin-off story about Bert!) What made you first decide to set your story in middle school / to write middle grade books?
Jamie: Everybody wants a Bert spin-off! He is such a lovable guy. I want him to have his own story too.
As for why I made these middle grade…I think that is the age when kids become really curious about what they read and begin to take ownership of their likes and dislikes. Middle school is such a tough time. You feel out of whack and the ground under you seems to be shifting as you change. But that’s where books come in. They offer windows to worlds where characters are doing the same thing you are: trying to discover the truths about the universe and themselves. I think I will always write for this age.
Speaking of characters, Mema is delightful! Such a pillar of the family! If Roll With It was ever made into a movie, who would you love to see cast as characters?
Jamie: This is such a fun question! Here we go:
- Mema: Dolly Parton (wouldn’t that be amazing???!)
- Grandpa: Sam Elliott
- Ellie: Not sure, but definitely someone who is a wheelchair-user and not someone hired to pretend to be in a wheelchair.
- Coralee: The girl from “Little Miss Sunshine” (because she wanted to be a star too!)
- Bert: Iain Armitage (the kid who plays Young Sheldon on the tv spin-off of “Big Bang Theory”)
What’s next for you? Do you have a new book on the horizon?
Jamie: I am so grateful to have six more middle grade books coming out over the next six years. The next one, One Kid’s Trash, comes out August 31, 2021 and it’s already available for pre-order! Here’s the description:
From the acclaimed author of Roll with It and Tune It Out comes a funny and moving middle grade novel about a boy who uses his unusual talent for decoding people’s trash to try to fit in at his new school.
Hugo O’Donnell is not happy about being dragged halfway across the state of Colorado just because his dad had a midlife crisis and decided to become a ski instructor. It’d be different if Hugo weren’t so tiny, if girls didn’t think he was adorable like a puppy in a purse and guys didn’t call him “leprechaun” and rub his head for luck. But here he is, the tiny new kid on his first day of middle school.
When his fellow students discover his remarkable talent for garbology, the science of studying trash to tell you anything you could ever want to know about a person, Hugo becomes the cool kid for the first time in his life. But what happens when it all goes to his head?
I can’t wait to read One Kid’s Trash! So, on average, how long does it take you to write your books?
Jamie: I tend to write first drafts quickly – about two to three weeks. But the entire process takes upwards of a year from first draft to edits with my agent to multiple edits with my editor at Simon & Schuster and then copyedits, etc.
And finally, what three books would you recommend our readers try to fit into their 52 Book Club reading challenge this year?
- Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams
It won so many awards last year and deserved every one of them, plus Alicia is a lovely human being.
- Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
This is technically cheating because it’s the first in a series and once you read this one you will want to read the rest!
- The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan
I just finished writing my first book in verse and I read many as part of my research and this one is a favorite.
Thanks so much for chatting with us, Jamie!
For those participating in the 52 Book Club challenges alongside their middle schoolers (or for fans of books like “Wonder” by R.J Palacio) we definitely recommend checking out Sumner’s novels!
Jamie Sumner is the author of middle-grade novels, Roll with It and Tune It Out. Her essays have appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post. She writes and speaks about disability in literature. She loves stories that celebrate the grit and beauty in all kids. Visit her at www.jamie-sumner.com.