Title: A Cardboard Palace
Author: Allayne L. Webster
Publisher: MidnightSun Publishing
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Age Group: 8-14
What kinds of themes/issues are raised in this story?
A Cardboard Palace is told by Jorge, a boy who has been trafficked to Paris, and forced to steal for a controller, Bill, a selfish man who coordinates a gang of child thieves.
Jorge lives in a shanty town in unthinkable poverty. Each day is a struggle. But he has a good heart and he hates stealing. He’d much rather follow his dream of becoming a chef.
With the assistance of Australian apprentice chef, Sticky Ricky, Jorge finds a way to escape his plight. And not only does he save himself, but others too.
With a nod to Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, this modern day novel explores issues of poverty, crime, child trafficking and exploitation. The story is approached with sensitivity and humanity, from a level children will understand. Jorge triumphs despite his odds, providing inspiration to readers to stand up and fight for what’s right.
With global migration a dominant topic on the international stage, love and tolerance in our communities is needed more than ever. A Cardboard Palace seeks to create empathy; to put the reader in the shoes of someone less fortunate and to imagine what their world must be like.
The story champions: Tolerance. Sticking up for your mates. Doing what’s right. Helping others. The value of friendship. Being brave in scary situations. Daring to put trust in people who are offering to help. Daring to dream of a better life. Chasing your goals.
How are these important to you in raising awareness to your readers?
As much as we’d like to think every child’s existence is sunshine and rainbows, it’s not. Just as there’s a market for stories produced purely for entertainment, we also need stories which open young minds to the reality of the world around us.
Stories like A Cardboard Palace help to build empathy; to be kinder, more inclusive human beings. It also doesn’t hurt to be grateful for what we have; to realise our privilege and that we are fortunate in comparison to many.
Who or what inspired you to write this story?
I visited Paris in 2010. I did the usual tourist stuff: the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Arc de Triomphe and The Louvre. These sights blew my mind. I kept pinching myself I was even there!
But just as there were incredible sights, there were also things that troubled me. At the Gare du Nord station (Paris’ central transport hub) I saw beggars, too many to count. So many lost and desperate souls crowding the terminal, lining the platform, sitting on blankets, hats upturned hoping for a donation.
Late one afternoon, on a train darting between destinations, I witnessed a boy attempting to pickpocket my husband. He slipped his hand down the back pocket of my husband’s jeans, hoping to find a wallet. He was out of luck. We’d been warned of the dangers of pickpockets; male travelers are told to keep their wallets in their front pocket, making it harder for thieves. Luckily my husband had done this. The boy went away empty handed.
But from that moment on, I couldn’t get the image of that boy out of my head. What kind of life did he lead where he needed to steal? Why was a boy of his age travelling alone on a crowded city train? Where were his parents? What did he do with the money he stole? Where did he sleep at night?
And so the story of A Cardboard Palace was born. My character, Jorge, is an incarnation of that boy on the train; a child who should be in school, but instead he’s forced to beg and steal on the streets of Paris.
What’s your favourite part of the book?
My favourite scenes are those I portray at The Louvre. Not necessarily because the content is exciting, but because I was able to relive my visit to Paris through the eyes of Jorge. It’s been seven years since I was there, but I remember the heart-stopping moment I stepped inside that world famous art gallery like it was yesterday. I’d dreamed of visiting since I studied art in high school. To be able to portray my characters visiting my favourite pieces was indulgent fun. And, of course, the ending of the book is very much tied to the scene where Jorge and his friend, Ada, visit the Mona Lisa. The art brings the story full circle—which I love.
How would you describe the publishing process? Were they supportive? How long did it take?
The publishing process with MidnightSun was wonderful! From start to finish. Publisher Anna Solding is a dream to work with. She’s confident, knowledgeable, and she treats her authors as part of her family. My Editor Lynette Washington is competent, committed and generous. She knows when to insist on a change and when to take a step back.
The overall process took a couple of years from submission to fruition. This is incredibly timely, considering the amount of work involved in bringing a novel into the world.
I hope I’ll have the chance to publish with MidnightSun again, not just because I love having my stories out there, but because working with the MidnightSun publishing team has been such a treat!
What was the collaboration like between author and illustrator?
A Cardboard Palace is children’s fiction and therefore there’s no illustrator input. However, perhaps I can reveal a little about the cover art process. MidnightSun provided an exceptional author experience. They allowed input and comment at every turn. Several cover options were presented and I felt at ease providing open, honest feedback. Like most publishers, MidnightSun has final veto of the cover, but irrespective, they made sure I was consulted and kept in the loop. It’s that kind of generosity of spirit that makes them so brilliant to work with.
What has the feedback/audience response been like so far?
It’s early days, but feedback has been very positive. It’s exciting to have A Cardboard Palace endorsed by highly respected children’s authors, Rosanne Hawke (author of Marrying Ameera) and Susanne Gervay (I Am Jack series.) Both authors are incredibly kind to have offered to read A Cardboard Palace and to puff it.
What teaching and learning ideas would you suggest to compliment this book?
Teaching notes are authored by Adelaide based high school teacher, Andrea Altamura, in line with Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) standards.
Teaching notes are available on the author and publisher’s websites. http://www.allaynewebster.com/a-cardboard-palace.html
Any details on your book launch you’d like to tell us about?
A Cardboard Palace will be launched by former Masterchef Runner-up and Cookbook author Callum Hann:
Sunday 18th June @ 2.15pm – 4.30pm
401 Greenhill Road
TUSMORE, South Australia
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Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Allayne! It’s been a pleasure! 🙂 🏰
Children’s and Young Adult novelist, Allayne Webster, grew up in the coastal fishing town of Kingston South East, South Australia. Allayne is the recipient of three SA Arts Grants, a Board Member of the Salisbury Writers’ Festival, and she helped to establish the Women’s Professional Development Network Book Club at the University of Adelaide.
Allayne’s middle grade title, Paper Planes (Scholastic) was a 2016 CBC Notable Book and shortlisted for the Adelaide Festival Children’s Awards for Literature. Her other titles have appeared on similar lists, including the Inkys and the Premier’s Reading Challenge nationally. Allayne has a YA novel (Penguin Random House) and a junior fiction novel (co-authored with sister, Amanda Clarke, pub. Scholastic) due out later this year.