The inspiration for Laura Rueckert’s debut novel, “A Dragon Bird in the Fern”, came during a visit to a German castle.
“Once upon a time, the hostess was a foreign-born woman who married for political reasons. She came to Germany without understanding any German. I wondered what that kind of life would be like, ”Rueckert explains. “This is how my main character, Jiara, ended up in an arranged marriage where neither spoke the other’s language.”
A former student of Milford High School and Kalamazoo College, Rueckert lives in Germany with her husband and two sons, 14 and 16. Rueckert will give a virtual talk on his YA fantasy novel, “Dragonbird” at 3pm on Sunday August 8th. via Nicola Books in Ann Arbor.
In his book, an assassin kills Princess Scilla, whose restless spirit haunts those close to her until her killer is brought to justice. As the kingdom mourns, Scilla’s fiancée arrives, asking 17-year-old Jiara to take her older sister’s place as a wife to confirm the alliance between their countries. Marrying the young king destined for Scilla and traveling to his country is bad enough, but because she suffers from dyslexia, Jiara had long given up hope of learning new languages. She is terrified of living in a foreign country, unable to communicate.
“My idea to turn Scilla into a ghost who attacks his own family until his killer is brought to justice arose because I needed a compelling reason for Jiara to agree to marry the foreign king,” explains Rueckert. “Jiara is terrified of going to her country because she assumes that her reading and writing problems mean that she cannot learn another language – spoiler: this is not true!
“Then she discovers evidence indicating that the assassin is from the king’s country,” she adds. “To ensure the safety of his family, the murderer must be found. She loves her family more than anything, so she agrees to marry the foreign king in order to find the killer.
Rueckert explains why she made Jiara dyslexic.
“My two children were diagnosed with dyslexia, but not until they heard for years from school that they just needed to work harder / longer to practice reading and writing,” says- she. “Too few teachers understand the signs. We live in Germany, and once the diagnosis was made, people who weren’t experts tried to convince me to stop speaking English to them, believing that focusing on one language would make reading and writing easier. I did a lot of research and found that a lot of dyslexic people are multilingual, and I wanted to describe that.
It was important for Rueckert to accurately describe disability in his novel.
“I not only did the research, but also worked with two dyslexic and multilingual authors to make sure my descriptions were accurate,” she says. “Dyslexia has many forms, so not all people with dyslexia will necessarily recognize themselves in Jiara. But I just read a review yesterday from someone with dyslexia, and she said it was the best portrayal of dyslexia she’s ever read in fiction.
“Dragonbird” has received critical acclaim, with Kirkus Reviews calling its portrayal of an unprecedented disabled princess, and saying it “provides dazzling backdrops and faint-worthy romantic moments, utilizing emotional travel and Jiara’s literals to hammer home the two messages of acceptance and adaptation to different cultures, sexual orientations and faiths. The School Library Journal called it a “must buy.”
Rueckert, who has family in Michigan, travels to his home state every two years, but the pandemic has prevented him from doing so. She hopes to return in 2022. Until then, her Nicola’s event is the closest thing.
“Supporting local bookstores is so important to me,” she says. “Obviously my local bookstore is in Germany, but one of the good things to come out of the pandemic has been to have online book events. I had the chance to watch Nicola’s recent interview with fellow Michigander YA author Tirzah Price who wrote “Pride and Premeditation”.
“As a local author, I reached out to (Price) and was delighted that we could host a launch event for (‘Dragonbird’)!”
If you are going to
Laura Rueckert discusses her first novel, “A Dragon Bird in the Fern” at 3 p.m. Sunday, August 8 at Nicola’s Books, 2513 Jackson Ave., Ann Arbor. This virtual event is free. Register to participate through Eventbrite (bit.ly/3AcxGQn). Autographed bookplates can be included in copies ordered from Nicola’s. Visit laurarueckert.com or call Nicola at 734-662-0600.