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