Sequels are hard to write. Readers who turn to them not only want a logical extension of the original story and characters, but they also wish to go deeper and to new places even as they want something just as good, or better. At the same time, there will always be new readers who come upon the sequel as a stand-alone story.
Sequels need to replicate the many facts and conditions of the original volume, everything from the age and eye color of your protagonist to the language patterns they use.
All this becomes even harder if you wait twenty-three years to write the sequel. Thus it was with The Secret Sisters, my newest published book. It’s the sequel to The Secret School, which first came to readers in 2000.
The Secret School had its genesis in a bookstore in Indianapolis when the owner told me that when she was a fourteen-year-old girl in rural Iowa, she received a special driver’s license that allowed her to drive back and forth to her one-room schoolhouse. Furthermore, since she was short, she sat at the wheel, while her younger brother sat at her feet to work the brake and shift the gears.
That is the way The Secret School begins.
The story came into print because Breakfast Serials, a publisher of newspaper serials, had asked a well-known writer to supply a serial story. When he gave up on the attempt, I was asked to write the story and remembered that Iowa tale.
Illustrated by Brian Floca, The Secret School would appear in 301 newspapers across America.
In an expanded version—without illustrations—it was published in book form in 2001.
(You can read more about the book in a blog post, “Everything about The Secret School,” here on my website, July 27, 2021.0
Over the years, even as the book remained popular, the original publisher was sold to another publishing company, and then a third. However, the book, hardcover, and paperback, were always available. It was the third publisher, Clarion, now a HarperCollins imprint, that requested I do a sequel.
Once I agreed to do so I went through the original text and noted all the facts I created about Ida, my protagonist. Color of hair, height, family names, location of home, and much more.
My editor and I discussed at length what the focus of the story would be. I first suggested the notion of a high school girls’ basketball team. Research quickly told me the game was utterly different than what is played today with 1920’s rules designed to minimize movement. Girls were not to exert themselves. That was not going to work for me.
I shifted my ideas and gradually developed a different line of thought and plot, which has found early, happy readers. Here’s one from Goodreads:
“When I first took the position as the elementary school librarian in our small town, the former librarian told me to never discard any book written by Avi. [His] latest middle-grade novel … is a wonderful book to introduce young readers to the fascinating genre of historical fiction. Ida Bidson has a dream to become a teacher and the only way this can happen is if she is willing to move to another town to attend high school, be a boarder in a new home, and learn to deal with an old-fashioned, stuck-in-his-ways principal.
To help adjust to her new surroundings Ida quickly becomes a part of a new club called The Secret Sisters. With her five friends and the help of some kind and strong female role models, Ida becomes determined to define her own place amidst old rules and new ways in the Roaring Twenties.
This book is pure, engaging, and a delight to read. I highly recommend it!”
As you can guess this was most satisfactory for this writer, and hopefully my readers.