word craft


Story Behind the Story #71: Ragweed & Poppy

Ragweed & PoppyThe ori­gins of Pop­py, and the Pop­py series can be found on this blog in a post dat­ed June 13, 2017.

If you read that post and the oth­er posts about the sequen­tial books, you’ll note that I nev­er intend­ed to write a series, that even as they appeared they were not writ­ten in sequence. More­over, that first pop­py book appeared in 1985. In oth­er words, the series began twen­ty-five years ago. That’s a stretch.

Now, years after that first book appeared, here comes anoth­er (and pre­sum­ably the last) in the series. Rag­weed & Pop­py fills a gap in the over-all sto­ry, answer­ing a ques­tion I’ve been asked many time by read­ers; how did Rag­weed and Pop­py meet?

Just to refresh mem­o­ries: Rag­weed (the first book in the sequence) ends with Rag­weed, after one mighty adven­ture, leav­ing the town of Amperville. He has had many expe­ri­ences, made friends, and has a pur­ple ear­ring dan­gling from one ear.

The next book—in sto­ry sequence—has Pop­py and Rag­weed atop a hill. It is a roman­tic moment. Rag­weed wants to dance in the open. Pop­py is rather ner­vous about that. There is an owl—Mr. Ocax lurk­ing. Dis­as­ter strikes.

The point is there was an obvi­ous gap in the sequence: how did these two mice meet? How did Rag­weed, last seen on a train, get to Ban­nock Hill?  My job was to find the answer to that ques­tion. Could I write a sequel to a prequel?

Once I decid­ed I would write the book the prob­lem was sim­ple: I had no idea how these char­ac­ters met.

Sec­ond prob­lem. In Pop­py, our hero­ine goes from being rather cau­tious, to becom­ing bold and adven­ture­some. I had to hon­or that with­out mak­ing Pop­py a very timid crea­ture with no mind of her own. She had to have agency.

Then, not a small issue, what would the book look like? Could it exist with­out the art of Bri­an Flo­ca? My strong feel­ing was no. Hap­pi­ly, Bri­an was will­ing to do his job. As ever, his art is fun­da­men­tal­ly part of the book and story.

Ragweed & Poppy illustration
illus­tra­tion from Rag­weed & Pop­py, copy­right Bri­an Flo­ca, pub­lished by Harper­Collins, 2020.
Used here with permission.

From a writ­ing point of view, what saved me, what point­ed the way, were the char­ac­ters them­selves. That is to say, they had become so lodged in my mind that I could rely on them to show me the way. Yes, Pop­py could dance. But she would not engage in a box­ing match. While not bold (yet) she would find a way to enhance her own safe­ty. As for Rag­weed, he could be bold, but not so bold that he would do every­thing by him­self. What­ev­er he did, he would need help. He was a social crea­ture. And so on.

Then I had to cross-ref­er­ence all the books. If a char­ac­ter had X char­ac­ter­is­tics here he/she need­ed the same char­ac­ter­is­tic in the new book.

Oh yes: the book had to be, like the oth­ers, funny.

Final­ly the edi­tor. In the course of the series’ long his­to­ry, it has had three edi­tors. In order: Richard Jack­son, Elise Howard, Alexan­dra Coop­er. Three very dif­fer­ent peo­ple with dif­fer­ent styles of work. Yet the books all need­ed to have the same voice, tone, style.  No easy task.

In the end then, what did we have to do? We had to make the new book the same, only dif­fer­ent. I think we have done so.

It will be now pos­si­ble to read the whole sto­ry arc start to fin­ish. Hope­ful­ly, new read­ers will not note the odd way it was writ­ten, or how long it all took.

That’s the won­der­ful way kids read. Nev­er mind the twen­ty-five years. It’s all now.


2 thoughts on “Story Behind the Story #71: Ragweed & Poppy”

  1. Thank you for shar­ing the process you jour­neyed through to make the new book a real­i­ty after so many years! A series beloved by mil­lions of kids and adults that bring good mem­o­ries. to mind. And we so need those hap­py thoughts!

  2. When­ev­er I read your writ­ing, be it a book or a blog, I feel uplift­ed. Think­ing about Pop­py, one of my favorite of your won­der­ful char­ac­ters, made me smile on a very tough morn­ing. Thank you for the time and care you put into every page. Thank you for hon­or­ing your illus­tra­tors as a val­ued part­ner in your cre­ative process. 


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