Flight of the Bluebird (Bland Sisters #3)--review and interview with Kara LaReau

Flight of the Bluebird, by Kara LaReau, illustrated with great charm by Jen Hill, is the third and final book of The unintentional Adventures of the Bland sisters (Abrams, January 8, 2019).  Kale and Jaundice, abandoned by their parents, lived a life of utmost blandness and boringness until adventure shattered their staid lives.  First they are kidnapped by pirates, in The Jolly Regina.  Next they whisked off by an unexpected aunt who's a famous magician, on a train ride full of mystery and excitement in The Uncanny Express (my review).  And now, in Flight of the Bluebird, they fly off to Egypt to face an unscrupulous illegal trader in antiquities (not a nice persona at all!) and, maybe, find their parents....

The titular Bluebird is the small airplane, piloted by daring aviatrix, Beatrix, sent by their parents to save them from some unknown danger.  But instead of taking them to safety, the Bluebird flies to Egypt, where they might solve the mystery surrounding the magical scarab Jaundice acquired in their previous adventure, and perhaps even find their long-lost parents...if danger doesn't find them first!  And there is plenty of danger, involving an evil archaeologist selling antiquities, kidnappings, and sundry other threats.  The sisters don't have the chance to peacefully be dull.

It makes for a fun read, and it's lovely to see Jaundice and Kale continue to emerge as three dimensional characters!  The magic of the scarab, and the wild adventures in Egypt, add a fantastical excitement to the story.  It's a fine conclusion to a saga that manages to be both wildly silly (for both grown ups and kids, with cleverness to delight the former and high jinks to delight the later), and at the same time thought-provoking.

And speaking of thought-provoking, it was a great pleasure to get to ask Kara LaReau some of the thoughts provoked in me!

By the time I read the end of Flight of the Bluebird, I realized that the Bland sisters were not Bland at all, and probably never had been; in this third book, when we finally learn why their parents left them, we get (or at least I got) a shock—they were incredibly brave and resilient from the get go (and though their lives and food were boring, this may well have been a coping mechanism rather than a reflection of their characters). So my question is—did the development of Jaundice and Kale into three dimensional characters, distinct from each other, and not at all bland, surprise you, or had you been realizing all along as you wrote them that this was going to happen?

Yes, I think their adherence to routine was a coping mechanism in their parents’ absence; their Blandness is a bit more inherent, though I think it became more extreme when they were left to their own devices.

In some ways, I wish Jaundice and Kale could have just stayed the same throughout the series, but I knew there had to be some character development in order to keep their story interesting. So I knew it was something I had to do, maybe not from the get-go, but gradually. In The Uncanny Express (Book 2), they do start using their brains and realize how much they can accomplish when they work together and apply themselves. So that kind of sets them up for Book 3.

And following from that, to make them over the top interesting and daring etc. wouldn’t have worked; did you have to work hard to keep the girls as bland as you could?
Making them bland was actually the easy part! I’m so in their heads that I just knew, for instance, that Kale’s first reaction to landing in Egypt was to note how much sand there was. (Her favorite color is brown, after all.)

There’s a point when they’re imprisoned in the tomb of Seti I where Jaundice and Kale get really angry, probably for the first time in their lives. That was a harder scene to write, because it was such a departure from their baseline, deadpan emotional state. 

This third book is also the most fantasy-ish of the trilogy, yet it the only one in a real place (and the one in which the girls are the most real, with real parents on hand….).   What made you decide to put in this actual fantasy twist of magical scarabs?

I knew that I wanted the final book to be an homage to Indiana Jones adventures, and there’s always a bit of magic in those stories, whether it’s the Ark or the Grail (let’s not talk about Temple of Doom or Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, ahem). Since Jaundice is always pocketing random objects, it seemed natural that she would take something truly valuable at some point—and I thought that would be a nice twist to leave at the end of Book 2 and carry into Book 3. 

The Bland books don’t overtly offer kids ethical lessons (except the obvious one in this third book of don’t illegally sell antiquities!), but when you were writing them, were there any big issue things you wanted kids to pick up on? (other than “you can be an interesting person even if you wear “boring” colors” which is my main take away!).
There are “lessons,” however subtle, in the books. Book 1, The Jolly Regina, has a little subplot about standing up for yourself, as Jaundice and Kale help one of the pirates who’s being bullied by her shipmates. In The Uncanny Express, the Bland Sisters learn about the importance of using their eyes and ears and being present in the world, and that you can’t take anything (or anyone!) at face value. Flight of the Bluebird is about being brave and getting out of your comfort zone. But these aren’t “issues” books, of course. They’re meant to be romps, maybe with a little message peppered in.

Do you think you’ll ever write for older “middle grade” kids—the 11 to 13 year olds--yourself? (which isn’t of course to say that kids that age wouldn’t like the Bland sisters….) 
I don’t think about age range when I’m writing; I just let the story unfold and figure out who it’s for later. So you never know!

Final question—did you ever regret giving them such awful names (euphonious, but awful), or do you stand by that choice?  If you had to pick being named either Kale or Jaundice, which would it be?  

No regrets. I stand by my naming choices!

Of the two, I’d probably want to be named Kale; it’s the closest to my actual name, and it’s evidently gaining in popularity these days!

Thank you, Kara, both for the interview and for writing the very entertaining books!

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