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  • Writer's pictureBenay Hicks

Words to Live By: John Claude Bemis

Words to Live By features exclusive interviews with authors, artists, and community members.

A longtime friend of Book Harvest and a member of the Book Harvest Authors’ Circle, John Claude Bemis is a the author of The Wooden Prince, Lord of Monsters, the Clockwork Dark trilogy, The Prince Who Fell from the Sky, and Flora and the Runaway Rooster. He received the Excellence in Teaching Award from UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Education for his work in the schools as an author-educator and served as North Carolina’s Piedmont Laureate. John lives with his wife and daughter in Hillsborough, NC.

John Claude Bemis

May 1, 2023

Is there a book or genre that stands out in your memory from your youth?

Max, 1970 by Maurice Sendak

I have always been a fan of magical adventures. Whether it was Max setting off for the land of the Wild Things or following Lucy and her siblings through the wardrobe into Narnia. Those sorts of stories always set my imagination ablaze.

What kind of reader were you as a child?

I was a voracious reader. And I started silent reading relatively early, but I wasn’t strong at reading aloud. That made some of my teachers wonder if I was actually reading the books. After feeling a lot of anxiety about that and having some struggles with teachers, I finally had that one wonderful teacher who recognized what was going on and was able to support me.

What are three children’s books you think should be on every child’s bookshelf?

I hesitate to say any particular books are right for every child. We each have such different tastes. But my go-to books that I often gift are The Wayside School series by Louis Sacher (which are so absurd and hilarious it’s hard to find a kid or adult who doesn’t love them), the Olivia picture books by Ian Falconer (also for hilarity factor), and Jonathan Stroud’s amazing middle-grade fantasy series Lockwood & Co (which has loads of humor but with lots of scary ghost hunting).

Book Harvest is proud to practice Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s theory of “Mirrors, Windows, Sliding Glass Doors,” which states that in order to become avid readers and reap the full benefits of lifelong literacy, children have to see both themselves and worlds beyond their own in the stories they read. Is there a book that you saw yourself reflected in as a child? Or one that opened new worlds for you?

As a white guy who grew up reading books disproportionately populated by white characters, I’m thrilled to see how young readers today get to explore a broad range of human perspectives. Books like Derrick Barnes’ and Gordon C. James’s Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut or even fantasy series like Kwame Mbalia’s Tristan Strong trilogy are opening up new worlds for many readers and familiar worlds for others.

What kind of books are on your bookshelf?

Primarily middle-grade novels and picture books. Although I love reading nonfiction books on science, history, literary and art theory, or anything that teaches me something unexpected.

What are you reading currently?

A great middle-grade horror story called Scary Stories for Young Foxes by Christian McKay Heidicker. It’s delightfully terrifying!

What is your favorite place to read?

Stretched out on my couch with a cup of tea.

Lyra Belaqua

Who is your favorite all-time character from a book?

Lyra Belaqua from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series

If you could have dinner with three authors from any period in time, who would you pick?

Maurice Sendak, Mary Shelley, and Octavia Butler

What are the children in your life currently reading?

My teenage daughter is reading a YA novel from North Carolina author Nora Shalaway Carpenter called The Edge of Anything. She’s totally engrossed!

Do you have a favorite quote from literature? If so, what is it?

I just love that line in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when Harry is in-between life and death and asks Dumbledore if what is happening is real or if it’s just in his head. Dumbledore says,

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

As writers, that’s how we want readers to experience our stories. They are real.

We are grateful to Mr. Bemis for answering our questions! You can learn more about him here.


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