Today we're excited to spotlight Just Under the Clouds by Melisa Sarno! Read on for more about Melissa and her book, plus the top 5 places in Brooklyn!
Meet Melissa Sarno!
MELISSA SARNO is a freelance writer and editor with an MFA in screenwriting. She writes about middle-grade books for Barnes & Noble's BNkids blog and edits YA and children's book reviews for Cleaver magazine. Read more about her at melissasarno.com. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @melissasarno.
Always think in threes and you'll never fall, Cora's father told her when she was a little girl. That was all Cora needed to know to climb the trees of Brooklyn. But now Cora is a middle schooler, a big sister, and homeless. Her mother is trying to hold the family together after her father's death, and Cora must look after her sister, Adare, who's just different, their mother insists.
After their room at the shelter is ransacked, Cora's mother looks to an old friend for help, and Cora finally finds what she has been looking for: Ailanthus altissima, the “tree of heaven,” which can grow in even the worst conditions. It sets her on a path to discover a deeper truth about where she really belongs. For fans of Fish in a Treeand The Truth About Jellyfish, JUST UNDER THE CLOUDS will take root in your heart and blossom long after you’ve turned the last page!
Top 5 Places in Brooklyn
"For the Love of Brooklyn"
By Melissa Sarno
My debut middle grade novel Just Under the Clouds is about Cora Quinn, a 12 year old girl living in a homeless shelter in Brooklyn with her mother and sister. When their room at the shelter is ransacked, the family moves in with her mother’s old friend and Cora discovers “the tree of heaven”, a tree that can grow in even the worst conditions. It sets her on a quest to understand the true meaning of home.
The novel was inspired by a lot of things but, especially, my love of Brooklyn, where I lived for eight years. Here are some of the real-life places and things that inspired Cora's story.
1. Prospect Park
"Daddy always said the best thing about a tree is getting in it. He said you might be able to stand over daisies, hold a rose in your hand, or look up at all the yellow suns in a sunflower field. But with a tree, you can sit in it and smell it and be in it. And maybe you can never put into words who or what it really is, but you can know it the way you can’t know anything else."
Years ago, I was walking through the park in the winter and saw a group of kids climbing a giant tree. This immediately sparked an idea to write about a city kid who loved to climb trees. What began as a story about a girl searching for the tallest climbing trees in New York City, gradually turned into Cora's story, about a girl searching for the stability and permanence a tree can provide.
2.The Gowanus Canal
"We live near the canal now and I like it. The water might smell of dirt and weeds and rot, but when you stare at it real close, there's a looping oil swirl and it looks like a broken rainbow nobody sees."
I knew I wanted to set part of the book near the Gowanus Canal because it's a place that may not look beautiful to many people, but it looks beautiful to Cora. It might be one of the most polluted waterways in the country, a place that seems like it would be hostile to plant life, but trees and plants continue to grow and thrive there.
3. Carroll Gardens
"The brownstones are set far back in Carroll Gardens, so the front lawns roll out to the sidewalk ...
It's the kind of place where people plant things because they know they'll be there to watch them grow."
When I first stepped foot in Carroll Gardens, I was struck by how green it was. Many people don't think of plants and trees when they think of New York City but, it was my time living in Carroll Gardens that opened my eyes to just how much natural beauty there really is.
4. Stray Cats
"Light shines from the tall glass windows of the shop. Stacks of detergent and toothpaste and lotto tickets. And I see, in the way the store lights up the street, that the shadow she's chasing is the smooth charcoal line of a cat."
So many bodegas and shops in Brooklyn have cats. I love that they make their homes in these highly- trafficked places and the way they skulk around the shelves. Cora's sister, Adare, is very attached to animals and she follows a particular charcoal cat through the sidewalks and bodegas in the neighborhood.
5. Ailanthus altissima, the "tree of heaven"
"He told Mom it was his favorite tree because it can grow in the worst conditions. It can grow anywhere."
Sometimes writing is serendipitous. When I first began writing about plant life around the Gowanus Canal, I had no idea that the most prevalent tree was the "Tree of Heaven", which is also the very famous tree in Betty Smiths A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It's the perfect name for a tree that is becomes a symbol of hope and connection for Cora.