Gale Leach, of Sun City West, didn’t expect to make a timid caterpillar named Bruce the main character of her book series until the day she heard a commercial on her car radio.
“Bruce and the Road to Courage” (2011), the first in a series of four books, won the 2015 OneBookAZ Kids eBook award. The books have won numerous other awards, received five-star ratings from Readers Favorite Book Reviews and are part of the English language-arts curriculum in more than a dozen Arizona and California schools. Leach is working on her fifth book in the series and a young-adult novel, “The Rift.”
What gave you the idea of using a caterpillar as your main character?
Honestly, [ideas] often appear unexpectedly, like magic. In this case, I was listening to the radio in the car and heard a commercial about a caterpillar. I was looking for a book subject, and I thought to myself, “What if a caterpillar was afraid to turn into a butterfly?” Suddenly, I knew I had an idea I couldn’t let go.
What age group do your books target and why?
I usually say they’re for ages 7 to 11, but younger children enjoy the books read aloud. Ever since Harry Potter books arrived, it’s hard to judge reading level by age—7-year-olds devour all the volumes.
Though I had originally intended to write for adults, the world had other ideas. I’m glad I ended up with kids as my audience. Helping those who don’t like to read find value in books and keeping those who do like to read turning the pages and hopefully learning something—that’s all I can ask.
What would you like school kids to learn from Bruce?
When the story and the characters are compelling, the themes in the books—standing up for yourself and what you believe in, the value of friends and family, dealing with great odds, not giving up—are absorbed almost automatically. For me, the reason to write is to move a reader to think, to feel, to be changed in the process of becoming involved in the story. Children have told me they still think of “Courage” years later as a favorite book. I can’t ask for more than that.
Are there more tales of Bruce in the works, or is your writing headed in a different direction?
A bit of both. I got the idea for a young-adult series, which I began writing two years ago. “The Rift” has become a much larger project. I hope to have the first book finished this year. Meanwhile, kids have asked for another Bruce book, so I began “Bruce and the Road to Freedom.” Freedom means different things to different people—or creatures—in different situations. I hope to get back to it one day, but finishing “The Rift” is my priority.
How has winning the OneBookAZ award affected your writing and your life?
So many wonderful things happened. Endorsement by the Arizona State Library and the Arizona Center for the Book has helped it to gain entry into more schools and to be welcomed at libraries. I’m very grateful that readers are [able to find] the book more than ever before.
Learn more about Gale Leach and her books at galeleach.com.