Friday, January 31, 2014

Ick! Yuck! Eeeew! -- An Interview with Lois Huey

Yuck! Ick! Eew! by Lois Huey is disgusting!  And that’s what makes it a wonderful read for middle school kids interested in how people really lived in history. As a reader who loves to read historical fiction and imagine myself in those flowing gowns riding inside carriages and walking through heather-filled fields, Lois Huey’s book shatters that dream by shining a very bright light on the reality of those days. Lois has done an amazing job on her research and so much of this information will be new to readers. This is a great book for classes studying Colonial America.  I’ll leave my dreams inside those romantic book pages and be thankful I can put on a gown for Halloween and still live in 2014 America! 

Lois, can you tell us more about how you conducted your research for this book?

In addition to information from excavations, I consulted original sources, that is, accounts from the time period. The people who lived then had little to say; they were used to their conditions. But the diaries and letters of visitors were a great source. They commented on what they saw--and a lot of it wasn't flattering.

As an archeologist you have probably encountered history from the ground up.  Did anything surprise you when you were writing this?

First, I encounter history from the top of the ground down. I have excavated in the yards of many New York State historic houses from the 17th and 18th centuries and discovered their surroundings were far from clean. Trash littered the ground. What surprised me in the research about life above the ground was the information about bugs! They were surrounded with flies, mosquitoes, bedbugs, etc. Yuck!

Is there any period of time that you could imagine yourself in if you could travel back in time?

I would love to go back in time to the 18th century, but I'm afraid the smells alone would knock me over! So I'll stick to what I can imagine while excavating through layers of time in the ground and what I can learn from those who did experience it firsthand.

What can your fans look forward to reading?

Just out is my first online publication done for The New Netherland Institute. Click on the link to read it  and enjoy the colorful illustrations.

My next book, also from Lerner Publishing, is about the lives of enslaved people in the northern states. Yes, there were thousands of slaves in the north living with their enslavers in the same house while working in the cities and small farms. What were their lives like? Since they left few records, I am reporting what has been learned by scientists who examine bones and test for DNA. Three 18th century African burial grounds  have been excavated by archaeologists in the north so far. One is near Albany, NY, one in Portsmouth, NH, and one in New York City. I am comparing the results of each.

Thanks, Lois!  If readers want to learn more about Lois' books check out her site

Monday, January 20, 2014

Interview: Augusta Scattergood on Glory Be

Augusta Scattergood’s debut middle grade, Glory Be, perfectly captures life in a Mississippi town during the Freedom Summer in the early 1960s.  With the same sensitivity and beauty of Kathryn Stockard’s The Help, Scattergood, gives us a story of civil rights and friendship. I had the pleasure of serving on the faculty of a Highlights Foundation Workshop with Augusta and am happy to share this conversation with you. 

Thanks, Augusta, for writing such a beautiful novel and for talking with me today.

Thanks for having me, Nancy!

 Glory Be is wonderful.  As authors, I'm not sure if we choose our stories or if they choose us. What was the case with Glory Be?

I think I chose this one! I've always loved to write, but writing a novel seemed like a daunting task. I first tried to write it as an adult short story about a wedding planner who loved Elvis. Well, thank goodness that didn't work out!

I love middle-grade novels, especially historicals. I really felt I knew this time and place.
It took me a while to sort it all out, but by the time I realized exactly what I wanted to say, it felt like I'd handpicked the story.

This story feels very personal.  Tell us about your research.

I certainly didn't have to research the food, the clothing, the town. Those were based on my own experiences. But even the music and the Nancy Drew books, I double-checked to be sure the dates were right. Believe it or not, there's a terrific book about the history of swimming pools, and of course, many about Freedom Summer in Mississippi. I read a lot about the subject. True confessions, I love research.

My absolute favorite research was done via oral histories, especially those on the Library of Congress and the University of North Carolina websites. Hearing those voices and reading their words was like stepping back in time.

And the research you did certainly comes through in this book, Augusta.

It is challenging to imagine a world without the civil rights we now enjoy, even though discrimination still exists among so many different groups.   How do you feel kids will relate to Glory and her world today?

It delights me to no end when kids are astounded about that world. When they cannot believe that it was against the law for black children and white children to go to school, the library, the playgrounds together. That happens often when I do presentations about the book and the 1960s.

It also surprises me how much today's kids know about the social scene! The music-- though they have no clue when I mention "45s"-- is something they seem to have at least heard about. All hands go up when I ask who the King of Rock and Roll might be.

Although it doesn't seem that long ago for some of us, Glory Be is definitely historical to the children reading it. What were the challenges in bringing this story to printed page?

Where shall I begin?
As Greg Neri, one of my writer friends said when I told him I'd sold the book: "Ten years to overnight success. That's about right."

I think I had a large learning curve about how to plot a book. Then there was finding the perfect agent. But truly, once Linda Pratt and I connected, the rest was easy. I loved working with my editor. And I couldn't have dreamed of a better publisher for this particular book than Scholastic.
Congratulations on a terrific book that, I'm sure, will find its way into many hands. On that note, what’s next for your fans?

Fans. That truly tickles me, Nancy.

My next book, The Way to Stay in Destiny, another middle-grade novel, will be published by Scholastic in Spring, 2015--next year! Also edited by Andrea Pinkney, this one's set in 1974, in Destiny, Florida. About baseball, pianos, a dancing teacher, Hank Aaron.
It was a lot of fun to write.
Thanks so much, Augusta!  For more on Glory Be read Lessons on Bigotry and Bravery from NPR.