Kirby Larson’s Hattie Big Sky, set in 1918, tells the story of 16-year old homesteader Hattie Brooks. From starred reviews in Booklist and School Library Journal to a 2007 Newberry Honor, it is clear this book is worth the read, but the true test is with the readers themselves, and Hattie delivers. As evidenced by the weeks on the NY Times Bestseller list and the numerous reader reviews on book sites, readers can relate to Larson's Hattie!
I'm not sure if we choose our stories or if they choose us. What was the case with Hattie Big Sky?
I laughed when I read this question -- oh, Hattie definitely chose me! I would never have dreamed of attempting to write an historical novel.
What were the challenges in bringing this personal story to life?
Just to clarify, there is very little of my great-grandmother's story that I know. I do know that she homesteaded in eastern Montana, arriving in 1914 and leaving in 1919, I know that she "proved up," and I know where her claim was. That is all I know. So the challenge wasn't in bringing her personal story to life but in finding enough information so that I could confidently tell a story about a young girl homesteading by herself in eastern Montana. That led to my three years' of research, reading hundreds of books, articles and journals and spending hours pouring over newspapers from the time period. If readers would like to know more about my research process, they can go to http://www.hattiebigsky.com/
It has been wonderful seeing Hattie Big Sky on the NY Times Bestseller list. How do feel teens relate to Hattie?
It was thrilling for me, too, to see Hattie on the NY Times Bestseller list. I think teens today absolutely know what Hattie was dealing with then. Perhaps struggles today are not so much "woman against nature," but teens are still struggling, as Hattie did, to figure out what it means to be a decent human being. Situations may change depending on the time period, but not the internal issues.
Many historical fiction authors have a favorite time period. Do you?
This is my first piece of historical fiction so I would have to say that my favorite time period is the one I've yet to explore!
What can your fans look forward to next?
The very next book is a nonfiction picture book, THE TWO BOBBIES: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship and Survival, co-written with Mary Nethery and illustrated by Jean Cassels (Walker, August 2008). This book -- the true story of a dog and a cat who survived Katrina together-- was triggered by my desire to write about my two trips to the gulf coast to help with Hurricane Katrina clean-up and by my desire to tackle a writing project with dear friend, Mary Nethery. The project I'm working on now is a middle grade novel, which explores an historical event from multiple points of view.