#WeHaveDiverseBooks: 5 Questions is a spotlight on OOM dedicated to exploring Scholastic’s amazing distinct voices. We’ll take a deep dive into the backgrounds, inspiration and works of these authors and illustrators.
Today, we're talking with Meika Hashimoto, the author of The Trail, a thrilling novel about adventure — and survival — along the Appalachian Trail for 8- to 12-year-olds
Tell us a little bit about your background and yourself as a child.
Both my parents are immigrants – my father is Japanese, and my mother is Chinese. My father moved to the U.S. as sort of a hippie, while my mom fled the Cultural Revolution in China (it took her six tries to escape, and involved being jailed, shot at, and starved). They met and married in Boston, where I was born, and moved to Maine three years later. I grew up with many animals – we raised chickens, geese, ducks, pigeons, pigs, and sheep for their meat; and kept goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and fish as pets. In addition, my dad started a family-run shiitake mushroom farm, which is still in operation today.
My childhood years were spent squabbling with my older sister and younger brother and reading books under the covers late at night. I explored mountains and rivers in my backyard. I picked and ate wild blueberries. I learned how to spot the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia and Orion's belt in the clear night sky. During the long cold Maine winters, I slept in an unheated bedroom and built snow forts ten feet high. I had a hard, good childhood.
When did you decide you were going to become a writer? How did this decision come to be?
A few months ago I found a tattered autobiography that I wrote when I was eight. In it I talked about my pesky younger brother, my favorite foods, and how I was going to be an author when I grew up. Throughout school I developed my writing skills, and then a year after college I took a course called "Writing for Children." The manuscript that came from it turned into my first published work, The Magic Cake Shop. I've been writing since then.
Your newest book The Trail released just a few months ago. Tell us about the main character, twelve-year-old Toby. What makes Toby’s background and journey in the book so unique, yet so relatable?
Toby comes from an unusual childhood. He's being raised by his grandmother after his divorced parents abandon him, and grows up in rural Vermont with only one childhood friend – his next door neighbor, Lucas. Though Toby and Lucas are best friends, through a series of tragic circumstances Toby finds himself hiking the Appalachian Trail alone, with only the memories of Lucas to keep him company.
In real life, few twelve year olds will grow up with only one grandparent, or will have the chance to hike the Appalachian Trail alone. But many of them will have the experience of having – and losing – a best friend. Many of them will learn that life doesn't always go the way you expect. And I hope that many of them will read Toby's story and be inspired. I'm not saying that every kid should run away to hike the Trail, but I do think that going on challenging journeys that tests one's limits is a good thing.
Can you talk more about the themes of friendship, courage and self-discovery in the story?
All friendships, no matter how great, are not perfect. The Trail explores what happens when a friendship breaks down, and tries to make sense of the pieces that remain. When Toby and Lucas's friendship ends, Toby must learn how to honor the memory of what their friendship taught him, but also to move on. His journey on the Appalachian Trail gives him the opportunity to realize how friendship, separate from Lucas, can sustain him in the present and the future.
At the beginning of the story, Toby is a bit of a scaredy-cat. He had always relied on his friend Lucas to be the brave one--to be the leader, to go first. Now that he's alone, Toby has to learn courage. Slinging on his backpack and heading into the woods took an enormous amount of bravery, but it was inspired by Lucas. On the trail, Toby has to make courageous acts that Lucas couldn't ever have anticipated--saving a dog, facing hunger and thirst, huddling in a tent alone, thinking about bears. These are real fears and dangers he faces and overcomes on his own. And in doing so, he discovers just how courageous and resourceful he can be.
What would you like to say to any educators or students who are just picking up the book now? What would you like them to know before they begin reading?
The Trail might look like a story about a boy and his dog on a hiking adventure, but it's more than that. It's about dealing with loneliness and grief and uncertainty. It's about the many kinds of silent, internal challenges a kid can face that are harder than hiking hundreds of miles on foot. It's about learning to trust one's self, despite the mistakes one has made in the past. It's about how survival can be challenging, but joyful as well.