Monday, April 23, 2012

Caroline's Classroom Connections!

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April 25, 2012
Caroline's Classroom Connections
Historical Fiction in the Classroom: THE YEAR WE WERE FAMOUS
Setting: America, 1896
Age range: twelve and up -- would work perfectly with an eighth-grade US history course

Winner of the SCBWI Sue Alexander Award for Most Promising Manuscript

Included on the ALA's Amelia Bloomer list (best books for youth with significant feminist content)

The journey in itself is amazing, but Dagg's tender portrayal of a mother and daughter who learn to appreciate and forgive each other makes it unforgettable.
-Publishers Weekly, starred review
Please tell us about your book.
One day in May, 1896, Clara Estby and her mother packed satchels with maps, compass, canteens, a pistol and a curling iron.  They strode east along the railroad tracks, determined to walk 4,000 miles to New York City by their November 30 deadline to win a $10,000 bet which would save the family's farm. 
Since Helga Estby was a suffragist, they were also out to prove what women alone could do, as they battled blizzard, bandits, flash flood and days without food or water, sometimes walking nearly fifty miles at a stretch.   
What inspired you to write this story? 
Great-aunt Clara and Great-grandma Helga meant to write a book, but because of the way their trip ended, all their travel journals were burned and they agreed never to talk about the trip again. I met Clara for the last time in 1950 as she lay dying in Sacred Heart Hospital. Forty years later, when I read two newspaper articles that had been saved from the burn barrel that had destroyed all their other records, I vowed that I would tell their story for them.   
Could you share how you conducted your research? 
Since I am a retired librarian, I started with about six million words of background reading, including biographies of people they met, places they passed through, frontier treatments for blisters, and the eating habits of cougars. From the Internet I found details I needed for various scenes, such as the elevation of the pass through the Blue Mountains and the history of Underwood typewriters. 
I drove part of the route with my daughter, poking in at little history museums along the way, studied old railroad maps to work out a plausible day-by-day itinerary for the whole 232-day trek, put on white gloves to turn the fragile pages of women's magazines of the 1890's, and scrolled through microfilms of newspapers which chronicled their walk.  
I found patterns for clothing of the 1890's and sewed a Gibson Girl shirtwaist and Victorian under-drawers. I prowled antique stores to find items, such as a curling iron, that were similar to the ones they carried. I bought reproduction Victorian shoes and carpetbag. I even went on eBay to buy period postcards of people they met and places they passed through.  
Details from those cards -- such as one of Mrs. William McKinley in her rocker -- found their ways into various scenes. Ninety-eight per-cent of my research never made it directly into the book, but helped pull me into each scene as I wrote.   
What are some special challenges associated with fictionalizing a true story?
I originally intended to write non-fiction, but I couldn't find enough verifiable facts to work with. Newspaper articles often disagreed on details, such as how many shoes they wore out or how many miles they had walked. Articles mentioned in passing that they had to shoot a man, demonstrated the use of their curling iron to Native Americans they met, encountered a blizzard in the Blue Mountains, nearly died when they got lost in the Snake River Lava Fields, and were almost swept away by a flash flood in the Rockies.  
Those brief facts hardly conveyed what it must have been like to walk through a blizzard in spring clothing or show Native Americans how to use a curling iron. If I was going to bring readers into the adventure, I'd have to fill in the missing details with imagination. The hardest part was putting words and thoughts to Clara and Helga.  
I had twenty-nine rejections on the book in its original variations of a straight adventure story. My acquiring editor said that without Clara and Helga's feelings added to the adventure, the readers wouldn't care about them. But how did I know what Clara thought when she was seventeen years old?   
To try to get into Clara's head, I took a year off from writing and immersed myself in the 1890's. For that year I read only what Clara might have read for school, like the classics, or dime novels and popular literature of the era that might have passed from hand to hand. I read period newspapers and women's magazines and diaries of Victorian women.  
After that year I was ready to start over and add heart to the story. By then I had decided that although I didn't know what Clara and Helga thought, I felt I could use them to represent all the New American Women of the era -- bold enough to demand the vote and take part in affairs outside the home.   
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it perfect fit for the social studies classroom?  
  • Women's suffrage: the movement itself and the price paid by people around anyone obsessed with a cause.    
  • Changing women's roles: using the contrast between Mrs. William Jennings Bryan, who was an attorney herself and often accompanied her husband on the campaign trail, and Mrs. William McKinley, who was a more traditional woman-aside from daring to cut her hair.   
  • Presidential Campaigns: Contrasting campaign styles of Bryan, who covered thousands of miles, and McKinley, who ran his campaign from his front porch. Compare to campaigns of today.   
  • Native Americans in a period of transitionsome of whom still roamed and some of whom were thoroughly brought into the white man's world, like Luke Fletcher.   
  • The Economy: The Financial Panic of 1893, compared to the Great Depression and the current economy.  Contrast 1893, when the government did not intervene, to 1930 and 2011.   
  • Bicycle craze of the 1890's and how it influenced women's clothing and women's feelings of independence.   
  • Contrasting reporting styles of the New York Times and New York World; compare accounts of Clara and Helga's trek.   
  • Changed levels of trust and security -- think of walking right up to the president-elect's door and being invited in for a visit!    
  • Acculturation of immigrants - contrast between Clara's father Olaf, who spoke little English, and his children.  Compare to today's new Americans.

 Black Stripes
Meet the Spellbinders

Caroline Starr Rose
Caroline Starr Rose spent her childhood in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and New Mexico, camping at the Red Sea in one and eating red chile in the other. She's taught English and social studies to upper elementary and middle-school students in New Mexico, Florida, Virginia, and Louisiana. Back in New

Mexico, Caroline now writes middle-grade novels and picture books full time. 

To find teacher's guides, writing activities, and information about author visits, go to her website.


Carolee Dean
Carolee Dean has made numerous appearances as a guest poet/author at schools, libraries, poetry events, and teacher/library conferences. She holds a bachelor's degree in music therapy and a master's degree in communicative disorders, and she has spent over a decade working in the public schools as a

Comfort Paperback Cover
speech-language pathologist.

Her first novel, Comfort,was nominated as a Best Book for Young Adults, was named the Best YA Novel of 2002 by the Texas Institute of Letters, and was on the TAYSHAS (Texas Library Association) reading list. Take Me There is a YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers.
Take Me There Cover

She conducts teacher trainings on inspiring reluctant writers including "The Secret Language of Stories" and "Random Act of Haiku."

 Follow me on Twitter 

Kim Bio PhotoKimberley Griffiths Little is the recipient of the Southwest Book Award, The Whitney Award for Best Youth Novel of 2010, and the author of the highly acclaimed, The Healing Spell and Circle of Secrets, published by Scholastic Press. Look for her books at the Scholastic Book Fairs, as well Circle of Secretsas two more forthcoming novels in 2012 and 2013.
She lives on a dirt road in a small town by the Rio Grande with her husband, a robotics engineer and their three sons. Kimberley is a favorite speaker at schools around the country, presenting "The Creative Diary", a highly successful writing workshop and has been a speaker at many conferences.

Please visit her website to download free Teacher's Guides and Book Club Guides. 
Follow me on Twitter 

Upcoming Author Events

Sunday, April 29th 
9-5 Preconference Session  
Author's Panel at the
International Reading Association Conference
Chicago, Illinois
"Rekindling the Reading and Writing Fire"
Join us for this all day session
featuring 11 authors including
all 3 Spellbinders
Carolee Dean
Kimberley Griffiths Little
Caroline Starr Rose 
Tuesday, May 1
3 p.m. - 4 p.m.
International Reading Association Conference
Chicago, Illinois
"The Secret Language of Stories"
Carolee Dean

Wednesday, May 16
Bloomers, Buckboards, and Buffalo Chips presentation
The Library Center
Springfield, MO
Saturday, May 19
George Washington Carver National Monument
Diamond, MO
Caroline Starr Rose

November, 2012
YALSA Literature Symposium 
"Author Research Panel"
Carolee Dean
Kimberley Griffiths Little
and two other authors
St. Louis, Missouri

1 comment:

Donna K. Weaver said...

Wow, that's quite the story. Go them!



Winner of The Southwest Book Award!

Time travel, war, love, rattlesnakes, magic . . .

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