We spoke with Ginger Garrett about the inspiration for her new middle-grade novel, Name Tags and Other Sixth-Grade Disasters, which follows twelve-year-old Lizbeth’s quest to make friends, thwart nemeses, and figure out how to express herself through art in time to participate in a mandatory school talent show.
Were you stuck with labels you hated when you were a kid?
I had such a horrible overbite I couldn’t close my mouth all the way. Add that to my freckles and flat reddish hair, and I was a nerd of epic proportions. But that’s not what the kids called me. I would have liked Nerd, actually. They called me Monster. I felt such shame.
As you mentor kids, what have you noticed about the power of labels?
I’ve noticed that in middle school, every kid wants to identify with a group. They want to belong, so it’s natural to accept a label as part of belonging to that group.
I don’t want to discourage the kids I mentor from exploring their identities, but I’ve encouraged them to “leave room on their name tag.” Their whole identity cannot be wrapped up and expressed in one word. For example, they are more than a Jock. Or a Brain.
And most important, no one should ever get to write on their name tag except them. No one gets to decide who we are, except for us.
Art—and a special art teacher—plays such a redemptive role in this story. Are you an artist?
I can’t even draw a straight line. My mom once sent my brother and me to an art camp. He was very talented. We each made clay mice, and his turned out much better than mine. My mom put his mouse on display over her kitchen sink; somehow mine got thrown out. I seethed with jealousy for days until one night, I sneaked out of bed, grabbed his mouse, and snapped its little limbs right off. I only told my mom the truth about it a couple of years ago.
If you were to fill out a name tag right now, what would you write on it?
Goofball. Mom. Dogmom. Yournewbestfriend!! Writer.
Truthfully, there’s a little bit of Lizbeth in me. I really like people and think if we could just get rid of the rotten ones, the planet would be one big party. And then the Universe gently reminds me that on any given day, I might be one of the rotten ones!