'Baby-Sitters Club' author Ann M. Martin's new book takes on autism

Story highlights

  • Ann M. Martin's latest book, "Rain Reign," hits shelves Tuesday
  • Martin is best known for her popular "Baby-Sitters Club" series
  • Martin has tackled many issues in her books for children
It's been almost 15 years since "The Baby-Sitters Club" held its last meeting, when author Ann M. Martin decided it was time to move beyond Kristy, Claudia, Mary Anne, Jessi and their friends from the popular book series.
But Martin has continued to write about adolescent experiences, from first loves to dyslexia and bullying. Her latest book, "Rain Reign," out Tuesday, is told from the perspective of a fifth-grader with high-functioning autism.
Rose Howard is obsessed with homonyms, prime numbers and following the rules -- something her teachers, classmates and single father don't understand. She feels most at ease around her dog, Rain, but everything changes when a superstorm hits their small town and Rain disappears.
"Rain Reign" isn't the first time Martin has included autism in one of her books, but it was a new experience for her to write using the first-person voice of a child with autism.
Author Ann M. Martin with Sadie, who inspired "Rain Reign."
Below is a transcript of our interview with Martin, edited for brevity and clarity.
CNN: Where did you get the idea for "Rain Reign"?
Ann M. Martin: I would say that it's been a long time in the making. The character of Rose has been percolating for a while, but the very beginnings of this story go back decades to the 1970s when I was in high school and college. I was fascinated with autism, and I began working the summers at a school in Princeton, New Jersey, for kids with autism. The interest has never left me. I minored in special education when I was in college. I wrote twice before about kids with autism but never from the point of view of the person with autism. Rose was the first one, and I just could almost hear her voice in my head, and her obsessions and idiosyncrasies were becoming clearer and clearer to me.
My editors Jean Feiwel and Liz Szabla and I had been talking about my writing another dog story. We had talked about a superstorm in some way because here in Ulster County (New York), where I live, we were hit incredibly hard by Hurricane Irene. It was very devastating in this area. All of these things came together at the same time -- a dog story, Rose and the storm -- and eventually the pieces came together.
CNN: How did you develop Rose's voice?
Martin: I thought it was going to be difficult. When I wrote "A Dog's Life," which was the first dog story I wrote, I had to experiment for a long time. It was told from the point of view of Squirrel, a dog, and I had to do quite a bit of experimenting with her voice before I settled on it. Rose's voice seemed to come to me more naturally. I think already knowing what her obsessions were, not only homonyms but prime numbers and rules, helped because her interests crept into her voice and helped shape it. So it wasn't as challenging as I had thought it was going to be.
CNN: Rose details her favorite homonyms throughout the book. What is your favorite homonym?
Martin: I have a lot, because I am just almost as interested in homonyms as Rose. The more different the spelling is for a pair of homonyms, the more interesting it is to me. One of my favorites that Rose discovers and mentions towards the end of the book is "soared" and "sword."
CNN: What did you enjoy most of working on "The Baby-Sitters Club" series?
Martin: Once I found a rhythm and developed the characters, I liked not having to say goodbye to them at the end of each book. On the other hand, by the time I wanted to end the series, I really felt it was time. I had told everybody's stories as well as I wanted to, and it was finally time to say goodbye and let them graduate from eighth grade. I also wanted to spread my writing wings and try different things, write in different time periods. I think we all felt it was time to end the series. But I love hearing from adults who read "The Baby-Sitters Club" books as children.
CNN: You worked with other writers on "The Baby-Sitters Club" series after the demand became too great and sent them outlines for future BSC books. What was that process like?
Martin: I really enjoyed it. I had been an editor before I became a full-time writer, so this was like putting my editorial hat back on. I am a huge outliner. I outline everything. The authors that my editors, and I chose to write the other books in the series were people who either I had worked with or the editors had worked with before and we felt that they could continue the voice of the characters. We kept the number of other writers very small to try to maintain this consistent voice for the series, and each of the authors had read all of the books in the series up to the point from which they would be writing so they would have the background. I trusted the writers we had chosen, and I felt that we worked really well together. I almost didn't have a choice, because there is no way I could have written all those books myself! I felt that this was the best of both worlds because I couldn't do it myself, but this was the schedule that Scholastic wanted, so it became what I thought was a very nice group effort.
CNN: What do you think of the status of middle school fiction right now and where it's going?
Martin: It is different from where it was when I first started writing. There is more fantasy, more sci-fi adventure and vampires, and I think it's interesting. I have a feeling in a few years, things will take a turn. The most important thing is, as long as kids are interested and turn into readers, especially avid readers, I think that's fabulous. Most kids become eclectic readers, which is great, and that's my hope for any reader, to find things that they love and hopefully those will lead them to other things.
CNN: You've tackled a lot of different issues in your books. What are some other things you'd like to cover in the future?
Martin: I would like to think maybe about writing fantasy in the near future. I've touched on it when I write the "Doll People" books with Laura Godwin, but she is the one with more of a handle on writing fantasy. So to write fantasy, even a light fantasy, would be a real challenge. I was thinking more in that direction than touching on another issue, which is not to say I won't do it; I just haven't been thinking about it.
When I was growing up, some of my favorite books were light fantasy, like the "Doctor Dolittle" books, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "James and the Giant Peach" and "Mr. Popper's Penguins," but for whatever reason when I began writing, the stories were much more realistic. So, I think it would be fun to tackle fantasy on my own.