‘All Four Stars,’ A Mouth‑Watering Story For Kids (With Author Interview!)
Gladys Gatsby loves everything about good food. She devours cookbooks and cooking shows, experiments with recipes in the kitchen, and loves Mr. Eng’s Gourmet Grocery with its cheeses, clementines, and Vietnamese cinnamon. The problem is that Gladys is 11 years old, and her parents don’t understand food unless it comes from a fast-food chain. When Gladys sets the kitchen curtains on fire – an accident involving a blowtorch and crème brûlée – her parents impose a ban on all things cooking-related for six months, and take away her allowance to pay for the damage.
Then Gladys enters a writing competition in the hopes of winning $500 to pay for repairs (and publication in a New York City newspaper). But when the editor mistakes her entry as an application for the position of freelance food critic, she hires Gladys to review one of New York’s hottest new restaurants. Gladys must make her way to the always-full restaurant and submit her review by the deadline – without her parents finding out.
All Four Stars is a fantastic debut from author Tara Dairman. Aside from being a mouth-watering read (literally, we were licking our lips at the descriptions of the food Gladys encounters), it’s a fun story for kids, age 8 and older, about friendship and following your dreams. Gladys is a charming, resourceful and passionate girl whom we were rooting for from the first page. We were thrilled when we discovered there’s a sequel, The Stars of Summer, and a third book, Stars So Sweet, expected in July 2016. We were even more thrilled when Tara agreed to sit down and talk with us.
The Swaddle: How did the character of Gladys Gatsby come about?
Tara Dairman, Author: I used to work in publishing, as an editor in a small magazine, and I worked with a bunch of freelance writers. I would never meet them in person and would only talk to them over the phone or by email. It occurred to me one day that if there was a kid out there, they could trick me into publishing their stories without me ever discovering they were a kid.
TS: You wrote All Four Stars while travelling around the world. Did that inspire you creatively or affect your writing process?
Tara: Yes, definitely. I had actually written two-thirds before I left on my round-the-world trip. I’d been working on it on and off for years, but never got that last push to finish. I put the manuscript in my backpack when I set off on the trip and promised myself and friends I’d come back with it finished.
Trying different foods and eating the foods in the place where they originated was definitely inspiring. A little of that made it into All Four Stars, more into the sequels. I finished most of it in five days while my husband was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. I didn’t really talk to anyone, I just stayed in and wrote. And in that way, the trip helped me get to the end of the first draft.
TS: What was 11-year-old Tara like? When you were Gladys’s age what did you want to do when you grew up?
Tara: I always wanted to be writer. So this is kind of a dream come true to have a couple of published novels. I tried to write my first novel in third or fourth grade, but didn’t finish.
Unlike Gladys, I was a very picky eater. I was a lot more like her friend, Parm, who only eats a few things. I only liked things like plain spaghetti and cereal. My interest in international food only came later, in my late teens and early 20s.
TS: What’s your favourite recipe?
Tara: It’s always changing. I do really love Indian food and I passed that onto Gladys. And I’m always still experimenting with Indian cooking at home. I’m not an expert yet, but I like to try.
My husband, Andy, and I really enjoy Ethiopian food, too. We’ve made a couple of dishes at home, but generally it works out better to go to a restaurant and let the experts prepare it.
TS: Are there any recipes that you’ve tried and failed?
Tara: I could say it’s happened with multiple Indian recipes; in America, it can be hard to get the right ingredients, and if you’re not toasting the spices just right, you don’t get the right flavour.
And I tried making macarons once. They’re so delicate. If you get one step wrong, it’s disastrous. I used that in the third book of the series [Ed. note: coming July 2016]. They tasted OK; my friends and I still ate them. But I haven’t tried them again because the recipe is so complicated. I haven’t mastered that one yet. I’ll probably try them again one day.
TS: Who is your favourite character in All Four Stars and why?
Tara: I love all the kids, and they’re all different and fun to write. Gladys would be an easy answer and holds a special place in my heart. But I have the most fun writing about Cherisa, because she’s difficult, as a person, to deal with sometimes. Writing a character who is slightly evil sometimes or who is slightly snobby is a lot of fun as an author, even if it’s less fun for the reader. I always have a lot of fun writing her.
TS: What about Gladys do you think resonates with kids and keeps them wanting to know more about her adventures?
Tara: She is spunky in certain ways. She has a lot of bravery when she’s attempting recipes or sneaking around for her restaurant reviews. But at the same time she’s shy and doesn’t have a lot of friends. She struggles with a lot of things kids that age are struggling with: how to fit in at school, what kind of person she wants to be. She’s also a great example of an introverted character who has a great passion and isn’t afraid to follow through on that passion.
TS: When kids have so much pressure to be extroverted – to speak up in class, to make friends – what does it mean for a character like Gladys to be introverted?
Tara: I definitely think introverted characters are important. Many people in the world are introverted, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have something to contribute to society. There are always things we can contribute to society; everyone has strengths as well as weaknesses. But it doesn’t necessarily mean getting up in crowds and making speeches. Writers can write stories that affect people without having to speak up. I’m a little bit introverted, so I’m a little bit biased toward introverts.
TS: What are your favourite books and authors?
Tara: The fairy tale retelling, Grounded, by Megan Morrison; the mystery, Nooks & Crannies, by Jessica Lawson; and the funny book, Hook’s Revenge, by Heidi Schulz, have all come out in the last year or two, and I thought they were all unputdownable. As for classics, I’m a huge Harry Potter fan and have also loved Matilda by Roald Dahl and many of Judy Blume’s books since childhood.
As for adult books, I still love to laugh. I also love to read stories that are evocative of other places in the world. Some of my recent favorites are Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple — so funny — and Half Of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, set in Nigeria during the Biafran War. Americanah, also by Adichie, was wonderful as well.
TS: You’re a playwright and a novelist. Which do you consider more challenging/enjoy more?
Tara: They are both challenging in very different ways, which makes it nice to switch between them. When you’re writing a novel, you have complete control, creating every word. But it also means you have compete responsibility, and it’s a very solitary profession.
When you’re writing a play, you’re only writing the dialogue, and it’s the director, actors, scenery director who are responsible for bringing it to life. So the writing is very solitary, but then it’s a very collaborative process.
It’s nice to be able to switch between both.
TS: Any words of advice for kids who want to be writers?
Tara: The number one thing to do is read a lot. Read widely. Read all sorts of different books, even if you think there is only one type of book you like. Try other genres — you might be surprised. And keep writing. Don’t worry if at first what you write doesn’t seem very good to you. In time, it will get better. Read and write!