Friday, March 26, 2010

the spark of an idea: the winter of red snow

A small piece of paper in a display case caught my eye.

The Winter Of Red Snow (Dear America)The Winter of Red Snow: The Revolutionary War Diary of Abigail Jane Stewart, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, 1777 (Dear America)I was in the visitor's center at Valley Forge National Park in Pennsylvania, glad for the air conditioning. It was Spring of 1994 and unseasonably warm. As I waited in line for the water fountain, I studied this piece of paper with faded handwriting. It was a receipt showing that General George Washington had paid a laundress 40 shillings a month during the winter encampment of 1777-1778.

Boing! Suddenly the Revolutionary War came into focus. I could relate to laundry! Ideas and questions zoomed through my head. Who was this laundress? What would it have been like to wash the General's shirts and see Martha baking a cake? While I went nuts in the gift shop buying books and maps and other doodads [including two Almond Joys], a story emerged: a young girl living in Valley Forge watches the Continental Army march into her peaceful valley during a blizzard. Many of the soldiers are barefoot, their bleeding feet leave blood in the snow ...

Wow! That gory image could be the title: The Winter of Red Snow.

Once home, I called my editor Ann Reit, to discuss the new Dear America series she and Scholastic publisher Jean Feiwell had invited me to help start. "Do it," Ann said. "Any more ideas?"

Off the top of my head I asked, "What about a girl on the Oregon Trail heading West?"

"Do it," she said again. Thus began another diary: Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie, but that's another story!

BOOK JACKETS above: [left] original from 1996; [right] new for Fall 2010 re-issue

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

a surprise at Hanover College

I've just returned from my first visit to Hanover College, a beautiful campus on the Ohio River in Indiana. Old brick buildings, wide lawns under trees still bare from winter. I was privileged to be part of a symposium with Dr. Sylvester Johnson and Dr. Howard Jones who spoke on American Exceptionalism. I got to talk about the fun in writing kids' books. 

The surprise came when I met some vivacious Education students, who had started reading my Dear America books when they were nine years old, specifically The Winter of Red Snow. They talked about wanting to be teachers and possibly using my books in their own classrooms. 
Seriously I choked up, deeply moved. Since writing my first novel in 1987, I've prayed for my future readers. Sometimes my prayers are specific--for happiness, health, for a comforting faith--but often the prayers have no words. They're just a yearning that my stories might bring a bit of fun to a child's life. 

What serendipity to meet these thoughtful and passionate students, future teachers! 
PHOTOS [top left]: freezing by the Ohio River with new friend. She has a dog and loves to read! [top right]: students Natasha Guffey, Marissa Walker--their imaginations and great sense of humor will make them great teachers. [bottom]: enthusiastic readers at our tea and book signing, including three brave boys!