The Unicorn in the Barn by Jacqueline K. Ogburn – Book Review and Author Interview

Last month, we took a trip to Barnes and Noble and picked up The Unicorn in the Barn. We were instantly attracted to the title, cover, and blurb. I had the pleasure of reading The Unicorn in the Barn with my younger children and you can see my review and author interview with Jacqueline K. Ogburn below.

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The Unicorn in the Barn

by Jacqueline K. Ogburn, and Rebecca Green (Illustrations)

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   For years people have claimed to see a mysterious white deer in the woods around Chinaberry Creek. It always gets away.
One evening, Eric Harper thinks he spots it. But a deer doesn’t have a coat that shimmers like a pearl. And a deer certainly isn’t born with an ivory horn curling from its forehead.
When Eric discovers the unicorn is hurt and being taken care of by the vet next door and her daughter, Allegra, his life is transformed.
A tender tale of love, loss, and the connections we make, The Unicorn in the Barn shows us that sometimes ordinary life takes extraordinary turns. – Goodreads

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 My Review

Have you ever seen a Unicorn? Eric has, and now his life may be changed forever.

Eric’s grandmother isn’t well and has been put into a nursing home. Her house is now being occupied by someone new, a girl named Allegra, and her mother, a veterinarian. One day, Eric stumbles upon Allegra pounding in a “No Trespassing” sign on the tree where his treehouse resides: his favorite place to be. They don’t seem to like each other, but Eric doesn’t know yet that Allegra may not be as awful as she seems.

As Eric spends more time around the woods and farmhouse, he begins to discover magical creatures, including a white and glowing animal he first thinks is a pony. Soon, he realizes this beautiful pony-like animal is a unicorn: the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. He soon observes that she’s living in the old barn near the farmhouse which has been converted into a vet practice by Allegra’s mother. The unicorn was meant to remain a secret, but Eric is inquisitive and must find out everything he can about this magnificent creature.

We absolutely loved all the magical creatures in the book, especially Moonpearl, the majestic unicorn. The talking animals reminded us of another favorite children’s story-Charlotte’s Web. The human characters are memorable and even though it’s an imaginary story, it felt real. The relationship between Eric and his grandmother is heartwarming and we admired how Eric and Allegra’s friendship developed over time.

There were a few events in the book that we needed to stop and discuss that dealt with loss and mourning and not everything unfolded the way we wanted it to. Overall, this story was beautiful and something I would’ve loved reading as a child. We fell in love with all of the illustrations and found ourselves wanting more. My kids did enjoy it and I’m happy to have it as part of our home library.

My rating on this book is 5*****

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You can find this book on Goodreads and Amazon as well as many other bookstores.

  • Age Range: 10 – 12 years
  • Grade Level: 5 – 7
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (July 4, 2017)
  • ISBN-10: 054476112X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0544761124

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BeFunky Design

Author Interview with Jacqueline K. Ogburn

 

Q: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

A: I didn’t really start calling myself a writer until after about my third picture book. By then I began to believe it was something I was good at, not just a fluke. I had always written things – poetry, journals, letters – starting when I was around 8 or 9.

Q: What made you decide to write children’s books?

A: My path was a bit unusual. I had moved to New York City in my early 20s because I wanted to work in book publishing. My first job was in children’s books, and it made me remember how I fell in love with reading. I wrote my first picture book when I misunderstood a book title. I thought it was The Noise Lullaby, but it turned out to be The Norse Lullaby. Not nearly as intriguing a title, so I wrote a manuscript to go along with the incorrect one.

 

Q: What is your favorite childhood book?

A: Lots of favorites: From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and A Wrinkle in Time, also Harriet the Spy and It’s Like This, Cat were some I read and reread. Looking at that list, it is not surprising I moved to New York City. I also loved Black Beauty and Bambi, both which had very sad and harsh scenes. And lots of fairy tales, mostly the one from the Grimm Brothers. I hated most of the Hans Christian Anderson stories. I especially loathed The Little Match Girl. His stories seemed so cruel.

Q: Have you always enjoyed writing? 

A: Like many people, I started with poetry. I like playing with the rhythms and how intricate they could be. Writing a poem can be like solving a puzzle, finding how the pieces fit.

Q: What influenced you to write The Unicorn in the Barn and are any of your books influenced by your childhood?

A: My daughter sparked the idea, when she mentioned that unicorns might be hard for a vet to treat. The setting of the story is based on the farm in North Carolina near Charlotte where my grandmother and my mother grew up, and my uncle still lives. I tried to give it a Southern feel, but not in a stereotypical way.

My book The Jukebox Man was based on my grandfather, who had jukeboxes and pool tables at bars and restaurants throughout North Carolina. The illustrator, James Ransome, also used my house in one of the pictures.

Q: How does writing make you feel and does it come easy for you?

A: I hate starting a piece. Starting is so hard, trying to find a way in. Those first fewwriting-center-1024x692.jpg sentences set up so much. Once I get past that, it is very absorbing. Picture books are so short that I can usually write a full draft in a day or two. I can hold the whole picture book in my head while I research and work out the plot or the structure.

Novels are hard because they have so much middle. Some many possible blind alleys and it seems to magically expand. Or you get stuck and aren’t sure how to keep it building towards the end.

Q: How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?

A: That’s like asking who is your favorite child. I love them all. I have published 10 picture books and one middle-grade novel. I love The Reptile Ball because it was a collection of poems. The Magic Nesting Doll was an original fairy tale. The Bake Shop Ghost because it is about cakes and a cranky ghost. Also because I got to write a musical based on it and see it performed, and it was made into a short film, which I got to see being made.

Q: What makes a great children’s book?

A: It’s easier to say what makes a bad one – a didactic approach, condescending tone, sugary sweet sentimentality, not respecting that children are people, stories that rote, routine and boring.

Q: Why don’t you illustrate your own books and what’s the process like for finding illustrators?

A: While I like to draw, I haven’t developed that talent. There are so many incredible artists out there, and I have been lucky in the ones who had illustrated my books. I don’t find the illustrators, the publisher does that, because they give a separate contract to the artist. I usually discuss the style of art the story needs with the publisher. Lots of artists have turned down my stories, for all sorts of reason – they didn’t like it, didn’t fit their schedule, etc. Once I met an illustrator years after he turned down my story. He did wonderful, realistic illustrations of children that were beautiful and intense. He remembered my story. He explained that he didn’t do it because the action took place inside, and he hated drawing interiors. He loved illustrating outdoor scenes.

 

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Illustrations from The Unicorn in the Barn by Rebecca Green

 

Q: What’s the publishing process been like for you and how do you market your books?

A: I have been very lucky in my publishing career. I don’t have an agent, but have worked with several editors at three different houses. I have had several books rejected, and probably don’t market those enough. I do some online marketing for my published, but that is changing so rapidly that it is hard to keep up. I do some school visits, but I have a day job, so I’m not a true road warrior.

Q: Do you like to read a lot? If so, who are some of your favorite authors and are there any that heavily influence your writing?2839.jpg

A: I read constantly. I’m the type of person who reads the cereal box if there is nothing else around. For picture books, Margaret Mahy was an influence – she is very funny and whimsical and playful with language. For a novel, The Bridge to Terabithia was an influence.

Q: When it comes to writing, what tools do you use?

A: Pen for poetry, computer for prose.

Q: How long did it take you to write The Unicorn in the Barn?

A: More years than it should have – about 10. I didn’t work on it consistently. I would put it away for months at a time, then find myself thinking about the characters and work on it until I got stuck again.

Q: What was the most difficult part of writing this book?

A: The middle kept growing, that there were more things I realized I needed to put in that weren’t part of the original outline.

Q: Will there be any other books regarding Moonpearl or the characters in this book in the future?

A: I have some chapters of a sequel, told from Allegra’s point of view. The main magical creature is a griffin, because I love the hybrid of lion and eagle.

Q: How did you come up with the character names in the book and are any characters or events based on anything true?

A: My daughter who gave me the spark, her middle name is Harper, so I used that for Eric’s family name. I did research by volunteering at the Piedmont Wildlife Center, so some of the details about the clinic are drawn from that, and the farm is based on the one where my grandmother and mother grew up.

Q: I appreciated that the book dealt with some harder topics like aging, death, and mourning which can be difficult for children to cope with. Did you make any major edits to the book or have other endings for the story?

A: I changed an important scene. Originally Eric tried to take the unicorn to his grandmother and Moonpearl ran away after being frightened by a car. My editor and husband thought it made Eric seem too selfish and unsympathetic. So I had to change a lot and ended up with the wampus cat.

If you tell a story about a hospital or a doctor, about healing, then death is always a possibility. I called a friend crying once, because I realized I needed to include the death of an animal if it was going to be a fantasy grounded in reality.

Being the parent or grandparent of a children’s book protagonist is risky business – they die off at an alarming rate. The loss of a grandparent or a pet are frequently a child’s first experience of death, and the initial setting I created made them almost inevitable. I tried to do it in a way that was emotionally true, but not crushing. To show that these things can be faced, especially with help.

Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?images.jpg

A: Read a lot, and be persistent. Dr. Seuss was famously rejected over 30 times before he found a publisher for his first book, And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street.

Q: Do you have any advice for parents who are dealing with struggling readers?

A: That is a bit outside my expertise, but modeling reading is one. Anything that appeals to an interest they have, don’t worry about if it’s “good” just something that they want to figure out. Reading out loud, just as sharing, not as pressure.

Q: Are you working on anything now and do you have any future projects planned?

A: The possible sequels and I have an idea for a series, maybe a bit younger than this.

Q: What else do you like to do outside of writing?

A: I live in Durham, North Carolina, which is now a foodie town. I like to cook and eat well. I grow herbs and flowers and tomatoes, because not even the farmer’s market has tomatoes as good as the ones in your own backyard.

I’d like to thank Jacqueline K. Ogburn for her time in completing this interview.

thankyou

 

About the Author

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Writer Jacqueline K. Ogburn recently received her 15-minutes of fame when Daniel Pinkwater read the text of her most recent book, The Bake Shop Ghost, on the Weekend Edition – Saturday program on National Public Radio. “Delicious” said Daniel Pinkwater. “It’s a yummy book.”

Because of the broadcast, Ms. Ogburn was contacted by composer Jonathan Schwabe about turning the story into a musical. The two collaborated on the project and the play premiered at the Maud Powell Music Festival in June 2007.

The book was also made into an independent short film by Lorette Bayle and is being shown at film festivals, both nationally and internationally. The Bake Shop Ghost film stars Kathryn Joosten as the ghost of Cora Lee Merriweather and Mary Anne Jeanne Baptiste as Ann Washington. It premiered at the Seattle Film Festival in May 2009.

A North Carolina native, Ms. Ogburn received a bachelor’s degrees in English and Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. For ten years, she worked in New York book publishing, primarily as a children’s book editor. She is the author of eight picture books. Her previous book, The Magic Nesting Doll, received a starred review from “Publishers’ Weekly” and has been translated into Greek and Korean.

In addition to her writing, Ms. Ogburn worked as a speech writer and public affairs specialist for the NC Department of Cultural Resources and was president of a small non-profit press. She has also taught writing at several venues, including the Friday Center at UNC-Chapel Hill. She currently works for the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University in the Communications Office.

The Bake Shop Ghost combines her passion for stories and dessert. Her family’s favorite recipe for birthday cake is the one included in the book. Ms. Ogburn, her husband, and two daughters live in North Carolina, in an 85-year-old bungalow with too many books and a deaf cat.

Her website is at http://www.wincbooks.comFrom Amazon.

You can find Jacqueline K. Ogburn on:

Instagram | Facebook | Goodreads

Other books by Jacqueline K. Ogburn

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19 thoughts on “The Unicorn in the Barn by Jacqueline K. Ogburn – Book Review and Author Interview

  1. This sounds so great!! We love Unicorns🦄💞🦄! Kayley and I just finished reading Charlotte’s Web together; do you think just turned 7 and 2nd grade is too young for this one? I know your kids (except your youngest) are a little older. We need to finish our chat, lol! It was after 1am when I went to answer you, but then I was afraid to in case it made your phone go off! 😉🤗 I’m still 11 pages away from finishing my 25 page paper due in 3 days, lol!! Better than I was the other day though!! I probably have time to chat tomorrow midmorning or early afternoon if you have time! Just message me ❤💞❤ Thurs and Fri I will be taking exams..fun..and finishing up this essay and trying to get to 40 pgs on the next essay! Is it fall break yet?? 😩🍁🍂😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a great book, Stephanie! I read it with my 4, 7, and 9-year-old and we took turns reading. It’s really too advanced for a 4-year-old, but it was perfect for the other two. The reading age is 10+, but I think because of some of the events in the book.

      It’s okay! You can message anytime! I knew you were busy. 😊 11 pages isn’t bad! Great progress. You’ll have to fill me in on how that goes.

      I’m with you! Break can’t come fast enough. Heehee 💗😄

      Like

      1. Sounds perfect!! I’ll have to buy it! She’s wanting to reread a Junie B. Jones book now then we are going to read The Borrowers together, but maybe this can be our next book!! We always have one book we read together and one she reads alone, so this sounds perfect as a together book!!

        Oh good!! I wasn’t sure if it would wake you up! My son keeps his phone on all the time and gets messages all hours….then he complains he never sleeps 🤣 11 pages is better than what I had, and now I have 13 hahaha!! Now I need to write 12 more by Friday and edit the paper too 😩😞😊 I have 16 pages towards my 40 page paper, woohoo…almost half way there! Funny, my break from the university I take classes from is a week before fall break where I teach, lol. And it’s only a few days which is silly but whatever. It would be nice to have the same week for both though so I could do nothing! At least it’s a break! 🍁❤🍂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, I think you would enjoy it! I actually wanted to go ahead and finish it before them, lol. I had to know what was going to happen.

          My son is the same! I swear, I tell him to turn it down because his notifications wake him up and then he says he didn’t sleep well, lol. That and he’s on it too late.

          That stinks about your break. It figures it would work out that way. I do hope you can get some relax time in. That’s a lot of writing. I just know it’s going to be perfect though! 💖

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        2. I’m going to buy it ❤💖❤ That’s so great you wanted to read it! It must be good!

          Teenagers are so strange, lol!! Both mine live on their cell phones. I just had an email from my 17 yr old math teacher about him staying on it during class 😡 I’m so aggravated and annoyed with him right now. That’s so rude and distracting. I’m going to turn it off if he does it again. Teenagers!! And yes, up all night on them! My oldest is in college and works 40 hrs a wk, so he tries to sleep as much as possible but still keeps his cell on…he doesn’t want to miss his girlfriend lol! ❣💞❣

          It does!! I’ll at least have less to do on those weeks, but I’ll be working on research for my thesis and trying to get some of the writing done. 300 pages won’t be done by April if I don’t start writing now, lol. But I will take a day doing nothing!! I need it.

          I’m 7 pages away from finishing my 25 page paper, woohoo!! And I’m still working on my 40 page paper…😩 Thank you! I’ll settle for it being just good this time, lol. I have book reviews I want to write instead LOL…my priorities!! 🤣❤💖❤

          Liked by 1 person

        3. I know! How did we ever live without cell phones? I have a love hate relationship with them. It’s the social media that keeps my oldest on his all the time. Srives me nuts.

          You’ll have to let me know how your paper turned out! 💜 TGIF

          Liked by 1 person

        4. I know! I didn’t have a cell phone until I guess I was 25?? My kids think that is insane, lol. My oldest is on FB but doesn’t use it much except to post a bunch of quotes, but my youngest son never is-he thinks it’s stupid, lol. But he spends so much time texting that it is ridiculous. I just want to take his phone and see if he can survive without it!! I would love to not have a phone for a while lol.

          I will! I’m sure it will be a week or 2 before it is graded, lol. I “graded” it myself though LOL. I think I made an A, but you never know!! I’m a pain in the butt student since I’m getting a degree in a subject that I’ve already been teaching for almost 2 decades, and I’ve been teaching longer than this teacher HAHAHA! It gets awkward for him, lol. Anyway, I hope you are having a great weekend! I’m about to watch Outlander episode one now that the zoo of my house has quieted down… ❤ 🙂 I'll have to let you know how it is!!

          Liked by 1 person

        5. That’s hilarious and has to be awkward for your teacher, lol. 😉 I just know you’re getting an A!

          Yeah, I didn’t have a cell phone until I was at least 21 or so. Everything is so different now! ❤

          Will chat soon and sorry it took me so long to get back to you. My internet is so bad right now and it's taking way more time to do everything on here. 😉 Hope you're having a wonderful week!

          Liked by 1 person

        6. It is kinda funny 🙂 I enjoy it though! And thank you…grades are supposed to be posted by this weekend so fingers crossed!!

          Everything is so different, lol. Kayley was so shocked that I didn’t have a laptop or a tablet when I was growing up hahaha!

          No problem! I’ve been MIA the past few days trying to get this essay finished by Friday, and I’ve had 164 essays of my own to grade…that is almost 1,500 pages to go over like a fine tooth comb. And my students have another one due Oct 15th that is 10-12 pages long, which of course coincides with my midterms and an essay that I have to write that is 35 pages and then I have another 40 page one due the beginning of Nov, lol. I have 10 pages of my 300 page dissertation written though LOL. I’m never going to get it written….

          Sorry about your internet! I would scream if mine was slow since I use it for school..and school LOL. And since hubby is a Network Engineer for Spectrum cable, I’d be nagging him to death to fix it since we have our internet through them 😉

          It’s a busy week; I’m feeling icky. I’ve had a migraine every day for over a week with some dizziness, blurred vision, and hand tremors that I’ve never had before, so I have a neurology appt. I spoke to the nurse on the phone, and they think it’s probably a mixture of eyestrain from being on the laptop 18 hrs a day doing assignments for school and doing all my lessons and grading for work and only sleeping 2-3 hrs a night. She said the eyestrain would definitely give me more migraines since I used to have them daily for 2 yrs (and I haven’t had an eye exam in almost 8 yrs, so my glasses are completely off), and the exhaustion would cause migraines and could cause the other symptoms..and dehydration too since I’ve not been drinking much. They still want to see me to see if it’s fibro symptoms, my thyroid is hyper, or if it is some brand new thing cropping up! Yippee. I’ll let you know! I hope you’re having a great week!! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        7. Oh no, I hope they figure it out. Thyroid can cause anything, I swear. I’m always symptomatic. Taking a pill everyday doesn’t fix the disease for me. Hopefully your labs will be norm.

          Girl, you need more sleep! I would die with only 3 hours of sleep. Literally! 💕❤😉

          Liked by 1 person

        8. Thanks! No, I agree. There was a period for about 4 years that I was not symptomatic after I went off synthroid and switched to Armour, but Armour changed how they manufactured their medication, and I swear that I have been symptomatic ever since even though my endocrinologist thinks it is all part of having fibro or in my head…but I have read on too many forums of other people with hashi’s or having a hypoactive thyroid saying the same thing. Taking some supplements with it helps, but not enough and my levels swing constantly. Plus I need to stay close to almost being hyper to feel “normal” and avoid daily migraines, which is odd. I’m odd.

          I know I need more sleep. I literally feel like I’m dying on days that I don’t sleep and when it ends up back to back, I get this feeling that I’m just drowning at times or having to push myself through sand to move and have a racing heart. I’ve been known to doze while standing, taking a shower, and scarily while driving, so this weekend I slept 2 days for 12 hours (mainly because my hubby forced me to sleep and turned off my alarm). I felt so much better afterwards but still exhausted since I had so much sleep to catch up on, and I still had the headaches. I’ve been making myself go to bed by all week so I can at least get about 6 hrs of sleep. I feel much better than I did last week, so that is some improvement 🙂 Still anxious to see what the labs show although the hand tremors have stopped since I’ve had more sleep…coincidence, maybe, but I think it likely was exhaustion. 🙂 ;)<3

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