An Interview with Sara O’Leary

In honor of National Author's Day, we sat down with Sara O'Leary to talk about the inspiration for This is Sadie, her excitement for the adaptation of the book into our dance/theater production, and more!
Creative Clubhouse KIDS

In March 2019, New York City Children’s Theater will premiere This is Sadie, a dance/theater piece based on the book by Sara O’Leary! We asked Sara about her inspiration for Sadie, what it feels like to have her book adapted into a stage production and more! 


Sadie has a huge imagination, which is made clear from the moment she tells us that she’s not in a box, but an enormous boat! Did you have an imagination similar to Sadie’s growing up? 

There was a book published a few years ago called How to Do Nothing with Nobody All Alone by Yourself that I love (author is Robert Paul Smith). It does seem to me that childhood is the time for doing all the nothing you can possibly do.

As a book-loving child, I shared with Sadie a contentment in my own company. And in a way I think that’s a fair definition of being imaginative. I think all children have that imaginative capacity and it’s sad to think it can get lost along the way.

How long did it take you to write This is Sadie?   

That’s such a tricky question. One answer is a couple of hours. Another answer is a couple of years. And they are both true. I went back recently to look at the original draft of Sadie (not the first scribbles on paper, but the draft that my agent and I decided was ready to show to a publisher), and not a single line was the same.

I rewrote the story under the guidance of my editor, Tara Walker (who is quite honestly more like Sadie than I am), and then rewrote it again after seeing Julie Morstad’s first sketches for the book. One of the funny things that happened was that in the original story there was a line about how one day she might have children of her own or she might have a family of foxes instead. But once those foxes appeared in the art, we didn’t seem to need the line any more.

How did you select the name Sadie for your main character?   

This one’s easy. My maternal grandmother was named Sarah for her mother who was also named Sarah. And I was named for both of them. Late in her life, my grandma said to me a little sadly: “I’ve always been Sadie and never Sarah.” I think with this book I really wanted to celebrate how wonderful being a Sadie could be.

Sadie goes on so many fun adventures in the book – what’s the most fun adventure you’ve ever gone on?   

Sadie is so much more adventurous than me. I tend to stay home and imagine myself elsewhere! One fond memory for me is going to the Penguin Random House offices before This is Sadie was published. The team working on the book had taken over a board room to throw me a surprise tea party. There was even a bunting sign hanging on the wall that said “This is Sara.” It was such a dream of a day.

This is Sadie is being adapted by NYCCT into a dance piece directed and choreographed by Stephanie Klemons. Do you have any dance experience?   

I have something like the opposite of dance experience. I did a first year drama class once where we were given commands and somehow I always ended up on the opposite side of the room from everyone else. I do, however love to watch people dance so this works out just fine for me.

Sara Oleary Headshot
This Is Sadie By Sara Oleary 300x300

Children are the best part about writing for children. And so for me, the idea of being in a theater full of children being introduced to Sadie is pretty thrilling.

Which part of the book are you most excited to see on stage when This is Sadie premieres at Theatre Row this spring?  

The pirates! There was a video on Stephanie Klemons’s Instagram account that was a bit from the pirate scene. When I first saw it, I wondered why I couldn’t remember the pirate scene from the book. Then I realised there wasn’t one. This signals to me that Stephanie and Barbara Zinn Krieger (who wrote the scenario) have really cracked the spine on the book and it is now wide open for anything to happen. The process of adaptation interests me so much and I can’t see what new thing they make of this character and her story.

Today (11/1) is National Author’s Day – who are some of your favorite authors?    

That’s such a hard question just because there are so many. In the Sadie book I had to choose four stories for her to visit and one of them is Alice in Wonderland which is a book I read as a child and have revisited many times since. My idea of a good book is one that changes every time you read it. One writer who I really admire for her ability to write for both children and adults is Jenny Offill. Her Dept. of Speculation is such a brilliant book and I could happily read it once a year for the rest of my life. But I also love the books she has done for kids. Even her titles are brilliant: 17 Things I’m Not Allowed to Do Anymore and Eleven Experiments That Failed!

What’s your advice for aspiring young authors?   

The best thing you can do is read. Read everything you can get your hands on. When you find something you like, go to the library and look up that writer or illustrator and see what else they’ve done. Read a book for pleasure and then read it again to see if you can work out how it is done.

In writing This is Sadie, I set out to create a child that felt as real as Max in Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are did to me and along the way I found something in the shape of Sendak’s story that was useful to me and so I stole it and made it my own.

Tell us about your favorite children’s book growing up.

My mother used to read me a poem I always thought of as “Isabel, Isabel.”  It is actually called “The Adventures of Isabel” and it’s by Ogden Nash. It’s terribly funny and the rhymes work on a deeply satisfying level: “Isabel, Isabel, didn’t worry, Isabel didn’t scream or scurry.” But of course, the best thing about the poem is that it’s about a small girl who is fearless and resourceful in the face of danger. I loved Isabel and longed to be her.

When I get letters from children saying much they identify with Sadie it brings me real joy to think of them making that connection. It’s why we read, isn’t it? To know that we are not alone.

Tell us a little bit about your upcoming book Owls are Good at Keeping Secrets, coming out in December.  

            In the early version of the Sadie story there was the line: “Owls are good at keeping secrets.” It was a section about Sadie having friendships with animals that I ended up cutting out, but I folded that line up like a fortune cookie fortune and carried it around with me hoping to find a place for it.

Owls are Good at Keeping Secrets is a collection of funny little “facts” about animals. Except of course that they are more fiction than fact. And they might be less about animals than about humans in general and small humans in particular.

What’s the best part about writing books for children?   

Children. Children are the best part about writing for children. And so for me, the idea of being in a theater full of children being introduced to Sadie is pretty thrilling. I’m really grateful to NYCCT for making this happen!

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