Category: public appearances
With joy, in 2000 I accepted an invitation to travel to Southeast Alaska and speak to enthusiastic students, librarians, and educators. The students in particular hoped I might write a book about Alaska but I shook my head no. I could never write with the authenticity of an Alaskan resident. However, while in Ketchikan, I visited Parnassus Books where I purchased more volumes about Alaska than I could carry. Most of the books were shipped back to my home in Vermont. But I kept a couple out to read on the plane. That is when I first learned of the Aleuts and their story. To my knowledge, no one had told their story to young readers and I feared no one ever would. This was such a risky project. How could I ever do the tale justice? I was very fortunate to have the assistance of several people with first hand experience who gave me honest criticism and helped me correct my misunderstandings and mistakes.
I fear the emotional, mental, and physical trauma of being relocated, of living in a refugee camp, has not changed significantly since 1942.
Often, when I attend conferences, I walk around the exhibit hall looking at the thousands of books on display. I also attend talks given by other authors whenever possible. I carried home Bill Slavin’s TRANSFORMED: How Everyday Things Are Made from one of those conferences. While losing myself in the wonderful explanations and detailed illustrations I came across an entry on the invention of the Teddy Bear by the Michtom family in Brooklyn at the turn of the 20th century. The way the Michtoms came to create the stuffed toy and the idea that the teddy bear was invented by immigrants who had escaped the bear of Russia fascinated me. The more I read, the more intrigued I became. And BROOKLYN BRIDGE was born.
On Mother’s Day weekend the Brattleboro Women’s Chorus performed their 20th anniversary concert. We’d been rehearsing since late Winter and all the music was written by our choral director, Rebecca (Becky) Graber. Above, I caught Becky and our sound engineer, Julian McBrowne, during a consultation. You can hear nearly the entire concert by following the link below. Let me know if you can spot me. Here’s a clue. I’m an alto. When the lower voices are singing alone, look carefully in that section for someone in orange.
In elementary school I was the shy girl with buck teeth, skinny legs, and a freckled nose. I rarely spoke in class but I loved being there, loved learning. I suppose my schoolwork revealed more about me to my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Ball, than I revealed in my behavior day to day. Near the end of May 1963 Mr. Ball asked me to write the graduation speech for our class. I recoiled at the thought of standing in front of an auditorium full of people but he told me, “Just write it and we’ll see what happens after that.” I threw myself into the task, writing and rewriting feverishly. Finally I gave Mr. Ball what I’d produced. He miraculously gave me in return the confidence to read it from the stage. My mother wept, sitting in the audience. She said afterward, “I had no idea you could think like that, write like that.” Mr. Ball looked like the cat who’d swallowed the canary. He wore such a warm, wonderful, proud, mischievous smile that day. I am so grateful to him for the way he nurtured me in his classroom. Years later, after I’d won the Newbery Award, I found an opportunity to seek him out and thank him. When we reunited, once again I saw that glorious smile of his. He was the best.
And that sixth grade experience is the one that most likely influenced me to become a writer. Thank you so much for asking.
Such a great question.
You’ve really been doing your homework!
When I researched this time period I came across a number of stories about accidental fires in the home.
Because this type of accident appeared regularly in my research, I decided to shape the plot of OUT OF THE DUST around it.
When I speak to audiences about the book I’m surprised at how often someone will come up to me afterward to share the story of an accidental fire as part of their family history.