Anna Humphrey: A Way with Words

photo: Christine Saunders

Although she's never had a truly exotic secret pet, in Anna Humphrey's new chapter book series she has no problem capturing the homesickness and sweet toothiness of a Southeast Asian fruit bat stranded in Canada. Megabat (available August 7, 2018, from Tundra Books) is the first title in the series. Humphrey is the author of several young adult and chapter books, including Rhymes with Cupid; Mission (Un)Popular; Ruby Goldberg's Bright Idea; and the Clara Humble series. She lives in Ontario with her husband, two sons and a few secret ladybugs.

What was the inspiration for Megabat?

The inspiration for Megabat came from a sad helium balloon and a mysterious puddle.

A few years ago, my family moved from Toronto to Kitchener. One of the big selling features of our new house for me was the attic. I could tell it would make a dreamy writing space, even though the first time I toured it there was nothing in the room except a partly deflated helium balloon.

The way it moved creeped me out and made me worry that the attic might be haunted. Then, not long after we moved in, a mysterious puddle began appearing at the bottom of our main floor stairs--even though there was no water damage on either of the two upper floors. What?! How?! Naturally, my brain jumped straight to the possibility of a crying bat hiding somewhere in the walls although--sadly--it ended up just being a bad roofing job around a dormer window.

Why was it important to have a "new kid" be the (human) protagonist in Megabat?

I started writing Megabat with my own kids in mind. Our family's move wasn't a big one, as these things go, but for my children (ages four and nine at the time) it was earth-shaking. Our old house was the only one they'd ever known, and we left a lot of good friends and neighbors behind. I wanted a protagonist that they (and other kids) could relate to... specifically, a little boy who was more sensitive than the boys you often see portrayed in books and on TV, since my kids are both wired that way.

How did you come up with the wonderful way Megabat has with words? I'm thinking "dust-gusting," "smoosh-fruit" and "buttermelon."

I love the English language, but it's so badly broken. I drew inspiration for Megabat's speech from listening to kids I know struggle to learn to speak it. Their "mistakes" often make more sense to me than the correct words do.

For example: my daughter used to say "sidewards" instead of "sideways." And why not? You go backwards! You go forwards! Why don't you go sidewards? When he gets new clothes, my son sometimes wails: "Mummy! This shirt is too spicy!" by which he means the material is causing a strong, uncomfortable feeling, like pepper on his tongue. And, oh my goodness--yes! I also hate spicy shirts.

Other kid-talk favorites of mine have included mixed-up or misheard words like "hosbibble" instead of "hospital" and "pollywop" instead of "lollypop." I didn't use any of those for Megabat, but I imagined if you were a fruit bat who'd somehow learned English while napping on papayas, you might also have a special way of talking that made perfect sense, if only to you. 

Do you have any exotic or secret pets?

I keep ladybugs in my upstairs bathroom. Does that count? Every winter we seem to get one or two who camp out there until the weather improves, and I just can't bring myself to smush them or kick them out into the cold. They don't have names or anything, but I look for them whenever I go in there. And I often move them behind the shampoo bottles or hide them in the medicine cabinet so the rest of the family won't notice them, since the fact that I let them live there drives everyone else crazy. 

Any hints about future Daniel and Megabat adventures in the series?

In the second book in the Megabat series, Megabat and Fancy Cat, Daniel's family gets a cat, and Megabat is not a fan. The book also features some mischievous squirrels or--as Megabat calls them--no-good puffer rats. And, not surprisingly, Kass draws the cutest evil squirrels you can possibly imagine. --Emilie Coulter

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