I’m very excited to welcome author Sundee T. Frazier and her awesome new chapter book:
Cleo Edison Oliver, Playground Millionaire (Scholastic Arthur A. Levine/2016)
Cleopatra Edison Oliver wants to be a major businesswoman like her idol Fortune A. Davis. When Cleo’s fifth grade teacher assigns her class to come up with Passion Projects, Cleo comes up with a brilliant idea for pulling loose teeth. Unfortunately, despite Cleo’s planning, both her business and her friendship with her best friend end up in jeopardy. Not only that, but her nemesis teases her about being adopted and Cleo’s reaction gets her in more trouble! This story will make readers laugh out loud, get teary, and cheer as Cleo figures her way out of her messes. I can’t wait to read more stories starring the brilliant Cleo!
Stayed tuned below for a chance to win a copy of this book!
Spotlight on Sundee:
What was the spark behind Cleo and her story, and what was your publishing journey for PLAYGROUND MILLIONAIRE?
Cleo is a good example of the various influences that generate story. The impetus for the novel was my agent who mentioned to me that she was noticing a big need (and demand) for chapter book series that featured main characters from diverse ethnic backgrounds.
I took on the challenge. I wanted Cleo to be a bright, energetic, confident African-American girl because this is part of my own heritage, and I have many aunts, cousins, and friends who are all Cleos in their own way. I have one young friend, in particular, who is very much this type, and it was her creativity and passion for selling that inspired the idea of a character who dreams of building a business empire.
Regarding her name, I knew the spirit of Cleopatra captured the essence of the character I wanted to create. I could imagine a young pregnant woman struggling with the decision to place her baby for adoption giving this name to her daughter to instill pride and confidence. I played around with middle and last names for Cleo and came up with Edison Oliver because I thought it would be fun to give her the initials C.E.O. Later I realized that Edison embodies Cleo’s drive toward business and innovation (Thomas Edison was quite the driven businessman as well as inventor from what I understand), and Oliver conjures the Dickens’ book, Oliver Twist, about an orphaned boy.
Cleo is not an orphan. However, she is an adopted kid, and while that fact doesn’t define her identity, it is a significant shaping force, just as race has been for me. The thing I love about Cleo is how she is a shaping force. She loves the art of persuasion and convincing people to buy whatever she’s selling, whether a product, a service, or just a great idea.
We “sold” Arthur A. Levine on Cleo after three-plus years of sharing the manuscript back and forth with this veteran (and venerated) editor. I couldn’t be more pleased to have Cleo coming out with his imprint at Scholastic.
What was the best part of writing this story? Any particular challenges?
Part of my calling as a writer, I’ve discovered, is to portray families that don’t “look” like they belong with one another. To show love that knows no boundaries, particularly along the lines that our society draws and defends so fiercely. In Cleo Edison Oliver, I continue my tradition of depicting interracial families. This family happens to be so by adoption—a beautiful and yet undeniably painful way that some parents and children come together. So this was probably the best part of writing the story—knowing that I’m continuing to provide portrayals of families that cross racial boundaries and contributing to the need for more adoptive families in stories for kids.
I also really enjoyed Cleo’s personality and seeing what she was going to do next. One of the most fun scenes to write was the one where she discovers the power of her Extractor Extraordinaire™ after recruiting her brother to be her trial customer for her tooth-pulling service.
The biggest challenge was sticking with it over several years, continuing to believe that it was an important story in spite of taking a while to get to publication. Now the challenge is having confidence that it will find its way to the kids who need it and will love it.
Cleo is an enterprising 5th grader with confidence and great ideas for creating businesses. She’s adopted and has a supportive and loving family. I instantly fell in love with her! How were you like or unlike Cleo when you were in fifth grade?
Although I went through a phase, like most kids, where I made little crafty things and hoped somehow to get people to buy them, I was never the Playground Millionaire type myself.
I’m not very business-savvy. I’m not an innate income-generator (apologies to my musician husband). I was always a dreamer, but in the realms of imagination, not in the real world! Honestly, I didn’t think I had much in common with Cleo and saw myself more clearly in the character of her supportive best friend, Caylee. However, as I struggled to find Cleo’s story and bring it to completion, I realized that while I didn’t necessarily identify with many of her character traits, on a deeper level, I understood her internal drives and longings: the desire to know where you come from, with whom you belong, and who you are. Identity questions and issues. Cleo also helped me admit to my pushy streak, and I suppose we share some over-achiever tendencies.
I hope the various forces that were at work to bring Cleo Edison Oliver into the world will direct her into the hands of all kinds of kids—future business moguls, entrepreneurs, adopted or not, black, white, and other. Ultimately, all kids are dreamers, and I hope that Cleo inspires them to persist in their dreams!
Sundee T. Frazier is a Coretta Scott King Award winner for New Talent for Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything in It, which also earned her an appearance on the TODAY Show with Al Roker’s Book Club for Kids. Her heartfelt, entertaining stories address subjects close to her heart: ethnic identity, growing up in interracial families, and multi-generational dynamics. Sundee’s work has been nominated for twelve state children’s choice awards, recognized by Oprah’s Book Club, Kirkus Reviews (Best Children’s Books of the Year), Bank Street College of Education, and the Children’s Book Council (among others). She lives in the Seattle area with her husband and two daughters, and you can read more about her work at www.sundeefrazier.com.
Scholastic has generously offered to send a copy of this wonderful book to a lucky reader of this blog. Just follow the instructions (you know the drill by now) and you can win a copy for yourself or a child or a school/library!
1. Comment on this post by Saturday, January 30th by midnight EST. A winner will be drawn at random and announced here on Tuesday, February 2nd.
2. Entrants must have a US mailing address.
Good luck and happy reading! Thanks for stopping by!