Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree

Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree

by Lauren Tarshis


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780142411506
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 05/15/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 362,747
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.70(d)
Lexile: 830L (what's this?)
Age Range: 10 - 11 Years

About the Author

Lauren Tarshis lives in Westport, Connecticut.


What was the biggest challenge in writing your first novel?

The entire process of writing this novel was a challenge, and I tried to approach each little part as a separate learning exercise, a kind of writing workshop where I was the student and the (not very qualified) teacher. That way I didn't feel too frustrated if I worked on something for weeks and weeks only to realize that what I'd written was terrible. I just said to myself, well, I probably learned something important there and hopefully I'll do better on the next pass.

But thinking back on the many drafts I wrote, the biggest challenge was the character of Emma-Jean's father, Eugene Lazarus. In the first drafts (and there were many, many, many drafts!), Eugene was very much alive He and Emma-Jean's mother were divorced (and Emma-Jean's mother was heartbroken). He loved Emma-Jean, but didn't understand her. He was a source of distress for both Emma-Jean and her mother. As hard as I tried, I could never "feel" Eugene the way I felt all of the other characters. He always seemed out of place, like a guy who'd wandered into the wrong party and didn't fit in.

But then one day in the shower, I had this thought: "Eugene Lazarus is dead." I dried myself off, threw on my robe, and ran to my computer. And truly, within minutes, I understood him: that he had been a brilliant mathematician, that he had studied Poincare, that he and Emma-Jean had been kindred spirits, that he had been the love of Lisa Lazarus's life. I rewrote the book with the new Eugene, and within a few days I had the draft that was submitted to publishers. Though much of the book stayed the same, the spirit of Eugene Lazarus infused thestory with more emotion. The connection to her father provided Emma-Jean with an emotional life and depth that she lacked in earlier drafts, and a stronger link to her mother. The new Eugene, ironically, is much more alive to me than the old one.

In middle school, were you more like Emma-Jean or Colleen?

I was like Colleen in many ways. Like Colleen, I cared about everything and was always convinced that some humiliation was lurking just around the next row of lockers. My clay mug exploded in the kiln and I couldn't finish the mile in gym (though I didn't cry). Unlike Colleen, I never fell under the powers of a Laura Gilroy type. But I did have a small group of close friends and I am still in touch with all of them.

There were people like Emma-Jean in my school, people who were very content to be on the fringes of the messy middle school social scene. Like Colleen, I admired these kids. They seemed very free to me.

Was there any real-life inspiration for Emma-Jean or her "solutions" to her classmates' problems?

There was no real-life inspiration for Emma-Jean. I have known people who have some of her qualities, people of enormous intellect and character who don't move easily within the world of other people. But I didn't base Emma-Jean on anyone I know.

Emma-Jean inherited her father's love of Jules Henri Poincare. What made you choose Poincare to be such an important part of Emma-Jean's concept of herself?

Poincare had popped up in my reading over the years, and I always found him appealing. He was a rationalist with a huge heart, a bit like Albert Einstein. He was a brilliant mathematician but he understood that people and life are not logical. Though he entered the book late in the game, his theories helped me bring Emma-Jean's character into sharper focus.

What book has had the biggest impact on you and your writing?

I had learning problems when I was in elementary school, and didn't really start to read well until high school. I never read any of the middle grade classics that were popular when I was young- Harriet the Spy, Charlotte's Web, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Ten years ago, I took over as editor of Storyworks magazine, which is aimed at kids 9. In preparation for that job, I gave myself a crash course in middle grade novels. I read dozens and dozens of them, and fell in love. It was during this process that I became inspired to try to write my own stories for kids, and determined to teach myself how. There were certain books that I read over and over again as I tried to understand how stories were built, how characters evolved. My favorites were When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, by Kimberly Willis Holt, Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech, The Secret Life of Amanda K. Wood, by Ann Cameron. I'm incredibly lucky because as editor of Storyworks, I've worked with some of the greatest middle grade writers around - Roland Smith, Lisa Yee, Ann Martin, Johanna Hurwitz, Eleanora Tate, Avi, and so many others. I've learned from each of them. I've also gone back and read all those great books I wish I had been able to read when I was younger. My favorites are Charlotte's Web and The Witch of Blackbird Pond.

When you're not writing, what kind of things do you enjoy doing?

My husband and I have four children: Leo is 17, Jeremy is 14, Dylan is 9, and Valerie is 3. So when I'm not working on Storyworks or writing, I'm spending time with my family, including my mother-in-law, who lives with us, my parents and my grandmother, who live nearby, and my brother and his family. I also love being with my friends. I met my two best friends in sixth grade, and still talk to one of them almost every day.

In quite moments, I love to read. Lately I've been reading mostly about exploration and the American frontier. I enjoy biking and hiking and being outside. I do many crafts (not too well).

Could you give us a look into your next book?

I'm working on two separate projects right now, both middle-grade novels. One is a bit like Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree, in that it is set in a middle school and involves two characters who connect and bring out the best in each other. The other is historical. Soon I'll need to decide which one to focus on.

Do you have any advice for young writers?

The most important advice I can offer is that writing is a craft that you can learn by practicing. If you keep writing, you will improve. Many writers are afraid of writing something bad, so they don't try or give up when their efforts don't lead to a masterpiece right away. If you work at it, you will improve. I had the opportunity to interview J.K Rowling, along with a few of my colleagues at Scholastic, just after the first Harry Potter was published in the U.S. She said that she wrote two or three novels before she wrote Harry Potter. "They were terrible," she said. But she emphasized that if she hadn't written those, she would never have written Harry Potter. So start writing now. Get those not-so-great stories out of the way so that you can get to the stories you will be proud of.

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Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 28 reviews.
Miracle Gant More than 1 year ago
Loved it, read it twice!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I absolutely LOVE this book! I have read it 3 or 4 times and think all preteen girls (or boys for that matter) should read this novel.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was an all around good book. Even though its not a very advanced read, it was enjoying anyway. Emma-Jean's character really springs to life in it. I got it for $1.00 at a book sale and it was a great deal. It wasn't outstanding, though, because it was pretty plain with words and wasn't as advanced as books that I would further enjoy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was wonderful for me it is not for everyone-not at all you see the main chatacter lives a rather dull life but she runs into someone who is kind of a um you could callher a drama queen. Emma-Jean's only companias have beeen her pet bird and her father before her father passed away now this didnt happen in the bookso Im not spoiling anyway so Emma-Jean ishaving ahard time trying to help I guess you could say Emma-Jean is computer like. You should give this book a try thank you hopethis was helpful! Bye!! =]
Lannette Woodruff More than 1 year ago
I liked it alot it was a fun book to read especially to give me heads up on what's middle schools like for next year.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think the book was great. At first i did't like it or want to read it because it was a 6 grade project but as i read on i started to like the book alot!
LCSDLibrary on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Quirky middle school girl tries to solve the problems of her classmates.
abbylibrarian on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Emma Jean sees the world a bit differently from most of the seventh graders at her school. She is a master of observation, though she doesn't always understand why people act the way they do. She remains detached and it's very hard to get under her skin, so even though she doesn't have any friends her age, she's not bothered by that fact. When she comes upon Colleen crying in the bathroom, Emma Jean discovers that she can use her problem-solving abilities to help her fellow students. And so she proceeds to "help" Colleen with a project that eventually backfires mightily. Colleen is pretty much the exact opposite of Emma Jean. She lets EVERYTHING get under her skin and is quite prone to crying in the bathroom (or her bedroom or her church or the car or...). At first grateful for Emma Jean's listening ear, Colleen is horrified when she finds out what Emma Jean's done to help. Colleen is certain her life is over. When she's finally able to talk out her problems, she finds that maybe what Emma Jean did was not so bad. And maybe Colleen needs to take another look at her own perceptions of the people in her life. I feel like I say this about every book I like, but Emma Jean has unforgettable characters and it's both funny and touching. This book explores the meaning of friendship and popularity without being preachy or scandalous. I really enjoyed it.
parkplace05 on LibraryThing 7 months ago
I really liked this book. I thought Emma Jean was an interesting character and that students who feel like they don't quite fit in will relate to her. Emma Jean's perspective about the goings-ons of her classmates is both humorous and naive. Her intentions are good, but her inexperience with social situations makes for interesting and entertaining outcomes. I think both girls and boys will get a kick out of Emma Jean.
judithwines on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Sensible, and somewhat socially outcast Emma Jean applies the cold blade of logic to other people's problems. She helps Coleen after Colleen is snubbed by a friend. She tries to set up her mom with their tenant. These efforts have an Amelia Bedelia-esque nature in which there are unforeseen consequences which necessitates Emma's re-interference. The book is sweet but a little too much so as Emma, after falling out the the tree, is embraced by her peers and gets the boy.
francescadefreitas on LibraryThing 7 months ago
I really, really liked this one. Emma-Jean's logical approach to life is a little hard to get to grips with, but her delight in moments, such as her parrot's head chucking her chin, is easy to identify with. Emma-Jean has always stood as an observer outside the strange social world of her seventh grade classmates. But when someone asks her for help, she realised that she can use her reasoning skills to affect the world. The wiritng is understated and just lovely. I'd give this to tween readers looking for a school story, and maybe even a mystery story. I greatly look forward to the sequel.
KarenBall on LibraryThing 7 months ago
7th grader Emma Jean Lazarus is an odd duck. She's very smart, and tends to scientifically observe other students rather than joining in their conversations and activities. When she finds Colleen crying in the bathroom, Emma Jean decides to work out a logical way to help her, and she ends up forging a letter to alter the course of events. While it seems successful, Emma Jean doesn't plan for the new problems her solution has created! She also decides to try solving some other problems, including a jock's unfair grade, a teacher's car problems and her upstairs Indian neighbor's love life -- some more successfully than others. While not everything in the story is completely believeable, Emma Jean's character is wonderful and different -- you'll find yourself rooting for her at every turn, especially against the mean girl. 6th grade and up.
misscristina on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Love this funny, lovely book about Emma-Jean Lazarus.
asleblanc on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Very quirky - Emma Jean was a fun character to get to know and I was glad enough to see that there was going to be a sequel since she would be someone I'd like to keep in touch with to see how her fictional life was going. I don't know that I agree with the placement of this book on the children's list - not because there is anything inappropriate in the book - far from it - just the themes and concerns of the characters are very middle school and I'm not sure that there would be as much of an audience in the 3rd-5th grade crowd. Who knows though... I think most teachers would agree we've all met an Emma Jean in our time.
ewyatt on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Emma-Jean is quite a character. An observer of other seventh graders, she decides to try to help a couple people with their problems after talking with Colleen in the bathroom. There's the queen bee and a host of other recognizable middle school stock characters. But Emma-Jean is unique and likeable with all her quirkiness. A sweet, quick read.
jbarry on LibraryThing 8 months ago
The Emma Jean series is sweet and smart. Specifically, the audio versions are fabulous! The reader, Mamie Gummer, narrated the second title as well and I simply cannot imagine meeting Emma Jean and Colleen without hearing their voices, their inflections and their oh-so-spot-on observations, always told in their deadpan or super-enthusiastic tones. Even if you have already read these, go listen to them, they deserve a second look, or listen!
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NorthReadingMom More than 1 year ago
As an adult, I really enjoyed this book. My daughter had it in the house, and she lost it for a few days while I was reading it. Excellent characters, and great character development. Awesome plot/conflict. Now I am buying 3 copies to give to family and friends for Christmas.
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