Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the publisher of my book The Mighty Mars Rovers: The incredible adventures of Spirit and Opportunity
just released enhanced e-book versions of my book and three other Scientists in the Field titles. And I have to say, they are pretty dang cool.
Here’s a short video that shows how they work:
I’m a pretty low-tech person (lucky to be married to a high-tech hubby and raising a high-tech tweener) and I still read books the old fashioned way – printed on paper and bound with a cover. But iPads and the like can do something that print books cannot. They can show video.
When I was researching and writing The Mighty Mars Rovers
, I discovered a treasure trove of cool videos and animations produced by NASA and the Jet Propulsion Lab, available for free to the public. They showed Spirit and Opportunity’s launches (impressive billowing smoke at take-off), the sequence of their landings (parachutes deploying, retrorockets shooting, air-bag-wrapped landers bouncing to a stop), and how their robotic arms move. Several videos strung together photos taken by the rovers so you could watch their journeys across the red planet as if you were rolling in their tracks. And update videos showed scientists and engineers talking about their work on the mission – their hopes and dreams, their disappointments and triumphs. I loved watching the videos while researching and I remember wishing my readers could watch them, too. But how would kids ever find them and would they take the time to wade through the archives to find the best ones? I linked to a few of my favorites on my website, but I really wished readers could see
the robotic arm in action while reading about the robotic arm.
And now there they are (among other enhancements). As you flip through the pages, small video icons show where to click to view a short video on the topic discussed. My daughter, who has read the book, spent several hours watching all the videos – some of them multiple times. And I think she got more from the book as a result.
But what if kids simply flip through and only watch the videos? Would that undermine the purpose of the book? From viewing the videos, kids would learn a lot about rovers, about Mars and about the scientific process. Some might be inspired to consider a vocation in science. Others might be inspired to work a little harder to overcome obstacles to follow their dreams. But I wonder: Will some kids be inspired to read a book they might otherwise have passed up? That’s something I’d really like to know. Will the enhancements become a substitute for the written word or a way to pull kids in or lead them to a deeper understanding?
What do you think about interactive enhancements in ebooks? What are the possibilities? What might be the drawbacks? Writers: What have been your experiences with enhanced versions of your ebooks? Teacher, librarians, parents and kids: Have you had any interesting encounters with enhanced ebooks? What was it like? Did it change the way you approached the book? We are entering a brave new world full of pitfalls and possibilities. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.
I was delighted that Bloomsbury asked me to revise my 2008 book, See How They Run: Campaign Dreams, Election Schemes, and the Race to the White House for the 2012 presidential elections. The idea of a do-over of one of your books is intriguing, sort of like going back in time to right wrongs. In preparation, occasionally patting myself on the back, sometimes seeing a paragraph or section that could have been better and, worst, seeing something that simply should have been better.
Quickly, however, I learned that economics rules revision as it does just about everything else. The more pages you change, the more it costs. So nobody’s looking to opt for a better verb on page 13, let alone something you feel more strongly about. Unless you feel very, very strongly!
My editor Michelle Nagler read through the book and studded it with Post-it questions and thoughts. I did the same, plus a good amount of research. Then we confabbed.
What got changed? Here are just a few categories and examples:
Factual changes After losing two elections for the Virginia state legislature, George Washington learned his lesson, treated voters to 160 gallons of alcohol in 1758 and got elected. That was true in 2008 and true now. But every “in the now” type fact got rechecked before we went back to press.
--For example, page 21’s sidebar, “Party Favors,” discussed party corruption, mentioning that, after the Civil War, judgeships cost about a $15,000 contribution to the Republican party, a bit more than $200,000 in today’s money. When I checked the conversion charts that track US inflation, I found the sum close enough to current value to keep as is, perhaps the only reason to be grateful for the Great Recession.
--On the other hand, page 51 was changed to say that nowadays only two states allow prisoners to vote. In the original edition, there weren’t any.
Updates Even though factual changes are updates; to me, this category contains the kind of updates that justify a new edition.
--The most obvious one is that we elected the 44thpresident of the US and the first African American. Enough references to Obama’s campaign and presidency were inserted when relevant: p. 31, for example, which talked about the campaign tactics of candidates who have something to overcome; Michelle and Barack’s dancing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show as an example of the current trend of “getting to know candidates as people;” Obama’s bio in the back, which mentions he has read all the Harry Potter books, etc.
--Obama updates I could have and perhaps should have used, but did not. In my first edition, I depicted the unbelievably elaborate security for George W. Bush’s second inauguration held after 9/11. I didn’t have the heart to trump that description with the protection used for Obama’s.
--In the original edition, I started the section about qualifications for presidential candidates by saying “You know how they say anyone can grow up to be president? Sorry, another myth bites the dust. (PS. There’s no such thing as the tooth fairy, either.)” With a book that numbered 96 pages and an audience I guestimated at 9 years old and mostly older, I didn’t think much about that. Until I got an email from a mother that said: “Thanks for outing the tooth fairy to my kid.” Another writer friend of mine said that any nine-year-old who still believed in the tooth fairy was either bilking his or her parents or deserves to know the truth. I, on the other hand, felt traumatized myself; so in 2012, I said I must change this. But to what? Who are you going to “out?” Unicorns? Fairies? Ultimately, I took the hit for my hometown of Boston and made it leprechauns.
There’s a puzzle to this revising exercise—you can’t add pages and must change as few as possible for economic rules mentioned above. So, what happens to a logically laid out page when you have to add something important that takes some explaining as well? Some worked out well by snipping words and widows to create room, sometimes even a whole example. Others plague me, still. I had to discuss Obama’s use of the media as a campaign game-changer, had to. It required a lengthy paragraph and cost a seamless argument. If I get to write a new 2016 version…
P.S. If anyone is interest in looking at information about See How They Run’s revised edition, use my web site’s links to the IndieBound or Amazon sites. I don’t make any extra money this way, but there are some Amazon snafus that make this updated book almost impossible to find (except for some weird $123 version).
One of the perks of writing for INK is that you get to interview authors about their cool new books. Michelle Markel is on a roll these days with her picture book biographies. Her latest, The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau (Eerdman) has got three stars and counting: Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, and Booklist. Here’s what they say:
“The career of artist Henri Rousseau gets a wonderfully child-friendly treatment in a book that captures both his personality and the essence of his pictures. … Markel’s text has a sweetness and simplicity that allows children to understand the story’s underpinnings, giving them someone to root for.” BOOKLIST “Markel’s account of Rousseau’s humility and amateur passion for art strikes just the right tone—it’s jaunty, confiding, and affectionate.” PW “Markel’s well-chosen episodes begin with the purchase of his first paints and brushes–at age 40. Compact sentences convey this self-taught artist’s rocky journey, leaving room for [illustrator Amanda] Hall’s interpretation.” SLJ Why did you choose Henri Rousseau as your subject? What’s your connection to his art and/or his story? I chose Rousseau because of his child friendly jungle paintings and his perseverance in the face of daunting obstacles- especially the mockery of the art critics. They wrote things like “It looks like he closed his eyes and painted with his feet.” I found it incredibly moving that Rousseau could pick up his paintbrush after reading something like that. Many children get teased about their drawings, so I thought they’d relate, and be touched by Rousseau’s ultimate triumph. Of course his story resonates with grownups too, as some reviewers of the book have pointed out. Who hasn’t felt the sting of rejection? Don’t we all want to be validated? I also connected to Rousseau because both of us began to pursue our creative impulses later in life. And I have a love of French art and literature. I majored in French in both undergrad and graduate school.
Tell me about your research.
I viewed his paintings (most recently, “Exotic Landscape”) and read a lot of material in the original French- his letters to Apollinaire, accounts by contemporaries, those nasty reviews. The Getty Research library was a great resource. My past trips to Paris (where I lived for a few months during my Junior Year abroad) helped me visualize the setting. Why do your choose the picture book genre for your biographies? I remember it clearly- the day it all began. I took my young daughters to our local library and found Diego by Jonah Winter, mistakenly shelved with fiction. It read like a magical tale about a little boy with artistic tendencies. I didn’t realize the story was about Diego Rivera until I got to the part about the striking workers. I thought that was brilliant- to bring literary techniques and a sense of wonder to picture book biography. I’ve wanted to do the same, ever since. What do you think of the illustrations for your book? Did you see sketches? Did you have any input? I did see pencil sketches, but my input was unnecessary. Amanda did her own extensive research (which enabled her to draw portraits of Rousseau through the years, as well as likenesses of Picasso and other avant garde acquaintances). She also asked me questions through our editor. When I saw the final pictures, I was thrilled. Her paintings are emotional and luminous. It’s like the text and art are soul mates. You’ve published with big east coast publishing houses and small regional presses. How would you compare the experiences? I can’t emphasize what a pleasure it’s been to work with a small press this time. Eerdmans has a reputation for fine picture book biographies; they knew exactly what to do with this book. It started with choosing the right artist, and continued with the marketing support- making beautiful postcards, a trailer, and being responsive to every email I send them. I haven’t had this experience with other publishing houses. Henri Rousseau is about 900 words. We hear these days that fewer words are better for picture books. What do you think about this? Do you aim for a particular word count? I think children should be exposed to all kinds of writing, from short and punchy to long and leisurely. Some authors, like the genius William Steig, excel at crafting elegant leisurely passages. Children need to hear the verbal richness of books like Amos and Boris, and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. Less is not always more. That said, I try to tell my stories in the fewest words possible, which for me is usually around 900. Once the research is done, there’s always a tension between the desire to include amusing or poignant details, and the demands of uncluttered storytelling. It’s very difficult, but rewarding work. You’ve also written biographies of artist Marc Chagall and labor organizer Clara Lemlich. How do you choose your subjects? Certain figures and historical periods capture my imagination. I also look for narratives that would resonate with children. Clara Lemlich was young, small in stature, and was treated unjustly. I think kids can picture themselves in that situation. They have a keen sense of fairness. There comes a point, while researching a potential subject, when the story just reaches in and grabs my heart. I’m overwhelmed with affection and admiration for this person. I want to express that as lyrically or joyfully as possible, as a tribute to them, and a means of inspiring young people. That’s the ideal. Will we see more picture book biographies from you? I have two more picture book bios in the works, with Chronicle Books. It’s a great time to be writing nonfiction!
Have you ever waited at a bus stop? Waited and waited at a bus stop? You watch cabs rolling by, watch buses going the other way, watch your watch with increasing irritation. Finally your bus does come--with two or three other buses right behind it. A herd, a pod, a troup of buses. Very annoying, isn’t it?
A similar thing has happened to me in the publishing world, but I’m not sure whether it’s annoying or not. In 2004, I had five books come out in one year. And, up until a few months ago, I thought I would have four coming out in 2012.
How does this happen? I’ve never written four or five books in one year, so how do they get bunched up on the other end like buses? Good question. Some books go into production relatively quickly, while others take a long time to write. For example, I wrote a book called Skyscraper that chronicled the making of the Random House Building and I couldn’t write any faster than the construction. It had a four-year gestation period and came out in 2004 along with Choppers! that took about two years from research to release. Other reasons? Editors have babies. It can take a while to find the right illustrator or to wait for an illustrator to finish two other projects before starting yours or the illustrator goes on strike. The economy tanks and publishing houses thin their seasons and spread out the books so your pub date jumps a year or so into the future.
Let me be clear, I’m not complaining, really. I know having a bevy of books is an embarrassment of riches. It’s certainly better than no books at all, or a surfeit of buses traveling in a pack. But what are the pros and cons for the author—and the books?
In the old days, the perception was: bringing out more than one book a season or a year meant the author was competing against herself. Mark that down as a notch in the “con” section. Of course in the old days, most authors published with only one house so the publisher would be competing against itself too; they controlled supply and demand.
Today many children’s book authors work with several houses. We cannot act as traffic cops giving Simon & Schuster the green light for one season and putting Penguin on hold. Now publishers are competing against each other. Has that changed the model? Does it help or hurt the author? And given the increased avenues of media, does having multiple books out at the same time increase buzz? Advertising wisdom says the more consumers hear something, the more likely they will remember it, perhaps become interested and start word-of-mouth.
In 2004, I decided that if there was any time to hire a publicist, having five books come out was it. Susan Raab and I concentrated on three of them. Susan was great and responsible for a good deal of the media coverage they received. S
"True stuff doesn't have to be all solemn and serious and sedate," wrote Roz in her postlast week about humor in nonfiction picture books. If ever there was a biographical subject who was NOT solemn and sedate, it was Julia Child, who would have turned 100 this year. Serious is another matter, however.
|Fun in the kitchen|
On TV, Julia had a natural, relaxed attitude that belied her seriousness about French cooking. Of crucial importance were fresh, high-quality ingredients, prepared with classic techniques that had been developed over centuries. Fortunately, Julia's serious approach was always tempered by an earthy sense of humor. At heart an educator, she knew that learning goes down easiest when you're having fun. Above all, she would say, are the pleasures of sharing a delicious meal with family and friends. For Julia, relationships came first.
In my new picture book, Minette's Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat
all these facets of America's most beloved chef and cookbook author are on the table. The challenge for me as an author was to find the right balance of seriousness and playfulness, and to do it in a way that kids would enjoy.
|Flowers for Julia Child's |
80th birthday party,
complete with kitchen whisk.
A Julia fan since childhood, I'd wanted to write a book about her ever since we met when I designed the flowers for her 80th birthday party, at the Rainbow Room in New York. But I struggled to find a way to make the subject child-friendly. Would six-year-olds really be interested in fancy French food?
Then I learned that Julia got her first cat, Minette, when she and her husband Paul lived in Paris in the late 1940's. This fortunate French feline ate meals lovingly prepared by the future Queen of Cuisine. In return, Minette brought Julia little tokens of affection—in the form of fres
No, not to INK. I mean, to the piles of books on and around and under my desk.
This happens with every book I work on, and I’m sure others can relate. As I research and write and revise, I gather growing piles of books – real, dusty, old-fashioned books. I keep thinking I’m done researching, but then I come across another obscure source I’ve just got to have. So the piles keep growing.
But eventually, when all the revising is done, and my editor assures me I can no longer alter so much as a comma, there comes this slightly sad moment when I realize I don’t need to keep the books at my desk anymore. That’s what happened this weekend with my upcoming book, BOMB. The advanced reader copies have gone out, and at this point I don’t even want to look at them, ‘cause I’ll just find things I want to change, and it’s too late.
So why are all of these books I used as sources still lying around my desk? Because we have no bookshelf space left in our house? Yes, that’s part of it. But I think the real reason is that putting the books away feels kind of like turning my back on friends. Every book in the stack is packed with amazing characters, scenes, and details, and I only mined a tiny fraction of the riches. After I put the books away, I’ll move on, and maybe I’ll dip back into them at some future date. Or maybe not. What a terrible friend I am.
In the spirit of thinking aloud, as David Schwarz did so compellingly last week, wouldn’t it be cool if there was an INK library? That is, one central location where we could keep the books we’ve collected over the years, and make them available to curious kids and teens and teachers. I can imagine it would be an incredible storehouse of fascinating and lesser-known true stories and primary sources. And in each book there’d be an inscription by the author who donated it, saying which book he/she used it for. And it would have an online catalog, and even digital versions of some non-copyrighted sources…
Anyway, just something I got to thinking about while I was supposed to be cleaning up my desk. Now, back to work on the next book – and the new stack of sources.
I just sent in the final photos, graphs, and manuscript for the second edition of The Wind at Work, due out in March 2013, and to celebrate I’m rerunning my blog on writing the book -- pre- and post-internet. Back in 1995 I wrote my first book The Wind At Work, a history of wind energy, and sent it to Chicago Review Press. They liked it, but replied that all their children’s books include activities. Would I be willing to write some? Would I! Creating activities was fun, relating windmills to science, creative writing, drawing and painting, sewing, cooking, singing, environmental research, and community action. Who knew? All this took place back in the Dark Ages, aka 1990s, aka pre–internet. RESEARCHING WAY BACK THEN To research the book I read books and more books, using public and university libraries, interlibrary loans, and used bookstores. I traveled to the Netherlands, the American Midwest, and a wind turbine factory in Tehachapi, California. To find photographs, paintings, etchings, and the like I searched through books. I visited and/or wrote to historical societies, the Library of Congress, tourist sites, and libraries. I received originals and photocopies and then sent purchase and permission letters, all by snail mail. And finally I sent off packages of photographs, slides, drawings, etc. to the publisher, all printed on paper! I spent a small fortune on long distance telephone calls interviewing windmill people and trying to locate the addresses and phone numbers of restored windmills in small towns all around the US and Canada – this in pre-free-long-distance-phone-plan days.<
As I wrote in a post last March, I have three books coming out this year and another one in early 2013, due to the vagaries of publishing rather than my own writing schedule. An embarrassment of riches, I’m not complaining. Nor (at this moment, at least) am I whining about how this traffic jam caused an unanticipated drought of publications for the last four years. Right now I’m thinking about how these past few years have given me time to take some steps toward the Brave Not-So-New World of author self-promotion.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t live in a glass bubble. I’ve had a website for a million years; after all, it’s the modern equivalent of a business card. I’ve always been willing and able to help promote my books. As a former magazine writer, I had contacts and used them. Four years ago, I was already blogging here at I.N.K. and knew all about Facebook, even though I had no interest in signing up.
So what's different now? Many things, for me and for most authors. There are a lot fewer magazines and newspapers, for example. Furthermore their decreasing advertising revenue have shrunk “less necessary” features about authors or their books.
Four years ago my publishers did some promotion for my books coming out, and they are this year as well. Yet more than ever, it’s so clear that even more of the responsibility for promotion has shifted to the author. New and midlist authors certainly. Yet I also have a friend, very well known, who has been firmly told she should post on her blog at least three times a week.
Most of the publishers I work with have sites or pr brochures that encourage us to promote. The Random House Author Portal, for example, lets you track your book sales and subrights online. But before you get to those weekly updates, you are invited to click on the “Connect with Readers” link or the “Monthly Marketing Tip.” Facebook, websites, blogs, twitter, of course. Then there’s the world of Pinterest that our own Melissa Stewart uses so cleverly, Infographics, virtual reader communities (Goodreads, LibraryThing, and JacketFlap being just the beginning), and Linked-In as a social medium—not job hunting—which I still haven’t figured out. It’s mindbloggling, but one ignores it at her peril.
The bad news, I now figure, is these tools have been put in our hands. And the good news is—these tools have been put in our hands. We have the potential of creating word of mouth ourselves in a way authors couldn’t have dreamt of even a decade before.
Do we want to? I have to say that the experience of building the guts of my new Wordpress website, (individual pages, sidebars, etc.) while hiring a professional designer for the customized frame has made me much more confident. And much less likely to glaze over or shrink away when considering my Brave New World.
These are the first new things I’m trying. To paraphrase the late Neil Armstrong: A small step for mankind, a giant step for me. If you find anything new and useful for you, grab it.
Facebook. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I don’t even like answering my email.
An Facebook Author Page This I like better, but try not to post 3 times a week because it feels a little spammy to me. Am I being too retro? I frankly don’t know.
A trailer for my new book, It’s a Dog’s Life. And trying to find more ways to use it than just my own and my publisher’s website.
Again, for It’s a Dog’s Life, a monthly contest on my site showing a photo of a dog in action, which asks, “What is this dog doing?” Kids and adults can email in their responses. At contest’s end, the person who best explains the behavior and the one who makes me laugh hardest each receive a free book. To me, this is a win-win situation. I get website traffic and people get free books. It’s actually win-win-win-win. Teachers can use it for a fun literary activity and dog, mom, or book bloggers can run it as an easy post that will interest their readers.
Am I reinventing the wheel? Sure, but how else am I going to understand it?
In 2008, when I began submitting to publishers my children’s book on the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, I got a number of rejections that basically said: We love the idea, love the writing, love the story, but we don’t think there will be interest in the market as the mission will be long over by the time the book comes out.
Now, rejections are never fun to get, but these made me want to scream: This story is never
over! This is the on-going
story of our exploration
of our solar system
One of my beefs with the way science is often taught in school and presented in textbooks and even in many trade nonfiction children’s books is that science is portrayed as a category of facts that kids need to learn rather than an ongoing, ever-changing set of questions people have about the world around them.
That’s why I was SO pleased when my book The Mighty Mars Rovers: The incredible adventures of Spirit and Opportunitywas published as part of Houghton Mifflin’s Scientists in the Field series this June, just two months before the next Mars rover Curiosity was scheduled to land on the red planet.
There are so many connections between Spirit and Opportunity's and Curiosity’s missions that it’s nearly impossible to miss that Mars exploration is an on-going question, on-going story. Many of the same people have been involved in both missions, from the main subject of my book, Steve Squyres, the principal science investigator for Spirit and Opportunity who is also involved in the science of the new mission, to Pete Theisinger and Rob Manning, lead engineers on both missions, to Jennifer Trosper, a mission manager for both missions, and Joy Crisp, a project scientist for both missions. Watching mission control during the nail-biting landing of Curiosity was like re-living the landings of Spirit and Opportunity – the familiar faces, the tension, the worries, the hopes, the awe. (If you missed the landing, you’ve got to see this cool 3-minute video
that melds footage from mission control and launch parties across the country with simulations of the landing process.)
There’s something else in the news these days that drives home the point that space exploration and science is an on-going quest. Astronaut Neil Armstrong died on August 25, 2012. The connection? Chapter one of The Mighty Mars Rovers
opens on July 20, 1969, as a thirteen-year-old boy named Steve Squyres watched in wonder as the Apollo mission put people on the moon. In 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin did something (walking on the moon) that ultimately inspired a young boy to dream of sending rolling geologists to Mars. Steve Squyres and hundreds of thousands of other scientists and engineers safely landed Spirit and Opportunity on the red planet for a mission so successful that it essentially answered the question: Was there enough water on Mars to support life? (Yes!) With that question solidly answered, and with everything else we learned from Spirit and Opportunity’s mission, today, the next Mars rover Curiosity can focus on searching for other building blocks of life. THIS is science.
The Mighty Mars Rovers
and many books written by my INK colleagues and others can be used to show kids that science is an on-going quest, an on-going story. With the help of the internet, readers can be guided to see the connections between a book they read on a science topic (The Mighty Mars Rovers
) and what is happening in that field today. (Check NASA's website for the latest on Curiosity’s explorations of Mars
, including other great videos.) Readers of The Mighty Mars Rovers
who follow Curiosity’s current mission can’t help but notice many parallels and connections. Teacher can also encourage readers to make these connections by asking:
- How are the missions the same?
- How are they different?
- How has rover design, launch, and landing changed?
- What are the biggest challenges of the missions?
- How were they overcome?
- What questions are the missions designed to answer?
- What tools do the rovers and scientists have to answers those questions?
- And maybe most importantly: What questions might come next?
Discussion questions like these help students experience the connection between science books and what is happening in the field right now – and inspire readers to imagine science they may want to do – questions they might want to try to answer—when they grow up.
Oh, and one more thing. All those editors who rejected my book because of timing were wrong. Not just in a philosophical sense but in a literal sense. The mission I wrote about in The Mighty Mars Rovers
is not over. Defying all expectations, Opportunity, expected to last a bit over three months in the harsh, frigid Martian environment, is STILL
roving the red planet, sending back photos and information about our neighboring planet more than eight years
later. That little rover is like the Indiana Jones of space exploration. You, your students, and your kids can catch up on Opportunity’s most recent discoveries and see new photos
sent back from Mars anytime you want.
* A complete teachers’ guide to The Mighty Mars Rovers
, including discussion questions and hands-on activities, can be downloaded for free here
Happy Fall, y’all!
Okay, so it’s a couple of days early but here’s a question for you:
What do maple leaves, apples, pumpkins, and owls have in common?
Hint: The answer has nothing to do with autumn.
Hint: Think math.
Maybe this coloring page will help:
No? (Please feel free to right click and download the coloring page for personal or classroom use.)
Maybe this will help:
Okay, so what we’re talking about is...
It’s actually a Spring 2012 book, but the plan is to make more coloring pages throughout the year and besides I’m really excited about this book. I’ve been thinking about how to do this topic for literally years so it’s very satisfying to have sent the final files up to the publisher.
In 1995 I wrote my first book The Wind At Work, a history of windmills, and sent it to Chicago Review Press. They liked it, but replied that all their children’s books include activities. Would I be willing to write some? Would I!
Creating activities was fun, relating windmills to science, creative writing, drawing and painting, sewing, cooking, singing, environmental research, and community action. Who knew?
Researching way back then
All this took place back in the Dark Ages, AKA pre–internet.
To research the book I read books and more books, using local and university libraries, interlibrary loans, and used bookstores. I traveled to the Netherlands, the American Midwest, and a wind turbine factory. To find photographs, paintings, etchings, and the like I searched through books. I visited and/or wrote to historical societies, the Library of Congress, tourist sites, and libraries. I received originals and photocopies and then sent purchase and permission letters, all by snail mail. And finally I sent off packages of photographs, slides, drawings, etc. to the publisher, all printed on paper!
In the 1960s, I was a Girl Scout for about a minute. I had been a proud and true Brownie, but my elevation to the next level, which back then was just called “Girl Scout,” came at the same time I started Hebrew school, and the troop meetings interfered with my classes. I wasn’t a big fan of green, anyway, so I wasn’t that heartbroken about giving up the uniform. I stowed away my logo pins and moved on.
Yet here I am, writing about the Girl Scouts, for a number of reasons. First, it’s Women’s History Month, and what better way to kick off the month than by focusing on a group that has empowered generations of girls? Second, March 12 marks the 100th anniversary of the first Girl Scout troop meeting in the U.S., organized by Juliette Gordon Low in Savannah, Georgia. And third, I’ve had a few interactions with the Girl Scouts in recent months that have reminded me how impressive this organization and its members can be.
I proposed writing a biography about Juliette Gordon Low a while back. The project never went anywhere, but I’m happy to report that a number of books on Juliette and her scouts have been published in recent months, in anticipation of this anniversary year. I managed to find First Girl Scout: The Life of Juliette Gordon Low by Ginger Wadsworth (Clarion, 2012) at my local library, and I can’t imagine anyone, myself included, doing a more thorough job of researching this singular woman’s life. Wadsworth tracked Low’s story from Savannah, to New York, to London, and beyond. Her writing is lively and clear, the book is generously illustrated with historic images and reproduced documents, and the back matter is beyond complete. It’s a YA book that's worth reading, whether you’re a Girl Scout or not.
In recent months, the Girl Scouts also have made a literary impact in another way. Last November, in conjunction with the Children's Book Council, they launched The Studio, a Web site that gives authors who write for young people the chance to communicate with Girl Scouts about their work. The lineup has been impressive, with Ann Martin, Jerry Pinkney, Laura Numeroff, and Joseph Bruchac, among others, answering questions about their writing process and sharing behind-the-scenes documents and discussions. I got to have my say the week of January 16.