Author Interview: Elaine Dimopoulos


Massachusetts author Elaine Dimopoulos has written some of my daughters’ (ages 8 and 10) favorite books, so it was such an honor for all of us to be able to ask her questions about parenting, writing, and her latest book!

Leonora: Literature has such a rich history of using stories told from the perspective of animals to teach more complex concepts and philosophies to readers of all ages through metaphor. Do you think it’s sometimes more effective to teach empathy through the literary lens of animals than people? If so, why? 

Elaine: What an interesting question. I don’t know if animal stories provide more effective lessons in empathy than human-character stories, but they do have some advantages in the empathy department. We instinctively care for small, vulnerable creatures like rabbits and birds, so our hearts are primed to go out to these characters. With animal stories, the stakes can be high—life and death, if there are predatory humans and animals around—so they engross us as we root for the hero’s survival. We can also encounter extreme characters, like my character Blue in the Milkweed Meadow series, a bully of a blue jay who hurls insults at other animals and poops on their heads. Animal characters’ antagonism can be exaggerated, so our empathy builds for their victims and teaches us how and how not to treat each other.

Leonora: For those parents with young children, how should they support their children’s desires for activism or advocacy?

Elaine: Fourth grade is typically the time that children begin to look around critically and see themselves as potential changemakers in the world. At this point, parents might introduce these four levels of activism:

  1. Personal: What can I change in my family?
  2. Local: What can I change in my community?
  3. Commerce: How can I combine efforts with others to get manufacturers to act responsibly?
  4. Policy: Which state and national lawmakers can I contact to make policy changes that benefit the environment, human rights, etc.?

Ask children what’s important to them and if they have ideas, such as organizing a local river cleanup. Start small!

Before fourth grade, engage children in projects you do as a family. Keeping things age-appropriate, emphasizes the beauty of the natural world and the freedoms we enjoy because people fought for fairness and equality. Later, they’ll hopefully want to continue the work you’ve modeled.

Leonora: Storytelling is such a large theme in your Milkweed Meadow series, how would you encourage children to engage in storytelling?

Elaine: When my son was little, I would staple together four- or six-page blank paper booklets. I gave him the guidance that his story should have a character, a beginning, and an ending. He would draw (scribble) on the pages and then narrate the story for me, and I’d write down his words, one sentence on each page.

My daughter loved to narrate longer stories, so I would type them on my computer as she spoke. Then I would read them back to her, and we’d decide things we wanted to clarify or add. Once she hit third grade, however, I made her handwrite or type them herself!

Fostering a love of stories and books in my children is one of the things that has meant the most to me as a parent. We lived at the library! Young people are natural storytellers and the more models we can give them, the better.

Leonora: Are there going to be more books in the Milkweed Meadow series? (My eight-year-old let me know that you had written to her that there would be four total, one for each season, but she is wondering if you can do “more than one book per season, please.”) 

Elaine: Please thank your daughter for her enthusiasm! I have proposals out to my publisher for books 3 and 4 in the Milkweed Meadow series, so hopefully, I’ll have a chance to complete them. I see the series as a seasonal quartet. But I do have another animal story, Catch the Cat Burglar, coming out next, which has a similar feel to the Milkweed series—except it’s a whodunnit mystery.

Leonora: This is a question from my ten-year-old. After reading both Material Girls and Turn The Tide, I noticed they both had characters that played piano and went on strike. Is there a personal connection to these themes?

Elaine: Your ten-year-old read Material Girls? Wow! (The publisher suggests 14+!) Yes, isn’t it funny that they both feature strikes at their respective climaxes? It was subconscious on my part; clearly, I believe in the right to organize to stand up for causes! And yes, both Mimi from Turn the Tide and Ivy Wilde from Material Girls play piano. I grew up playing piano, and everyone in my immediate family plays it now. (My kids are so good now that I mostly stick to Christmas carols!) Piano was easy to write about since I had a personal connection to it.

Leonora: Your newest book The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow is set to release May 21st, 2024. Who would you recommend your upcoming book to (ages, interests, themes)?

Elaine: I would recommend The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow to kids ages 8–11, and parents of kids ages 7 and older looking for a nightly read-aloud. In the novel, a theatrical troupe of turkeys arrives in the meadow and engages the creatures in putting on a summer show, so anyone with an interest in performing would likely enjoy the auditions, rehearsals, and songs in it. But please start with the first book in the series, The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow!

Follow Elaine Dimopoulos on Instagram to get more updates on her latest book and events in Massachusetts. 


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