An Interview with Vivian Kirkfield

Posted April 25, 2019 by Cathy Ogren
Categories: Author Interview

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Today I have the great privilege of interviewing the fabulous Vivian Kirkfield. Vivian is an extremely talented author who is always there to inspire, support, and mentor the community of kidlit writers. Her newest picture Sweet Dreams, Sarah: From Slavery to Inventor, is a biography of Sarah E. Goode, a former slave and one of the first African American woman to receive a patent for her invention of the cabinet bed. This is a beautiful story of the dreams and determination of a young woman as she works to achieve her goals.

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Welcome, Vivian! I’m thrilled to have you here on my blog today. 

In the past, women have been overlooked when it comes to calling attention to their many accomplishments in our nation’s history. How did you learn about Sarah E. Goode’s story and what was it that motivated you to tell it?

I had just taken a class in writing nonfiction picture books and the instructor had recommended we check online for lists of the ‘first person to do this or that’. And, being an obedient student, I followed her advice and plugged in ‘First Woman to do…” into Google. And a list of women came up and Sarah E. Goode was on that list as the first African American woman to receive a U.S. patent in 1885. WOW, I thought…in 1885, women couldn’t vote and, in many states, they couldn’t even own property. And for an African American woman to do that, just 20 years after the abolition of slavery, that was amazing! I knew I had to write that story.

 Great choice!

In order to keep a nonfiction story accurate, research is required. How did you approach researching the life of Sarah?

One of the problems with research is that if the person is not well known, there probably isn’t much written up about them. And this was certainly true for Sarah Goode. There was almost NOTHING online…just two sentences (the same two sentences) on several Black History websites. And NOTHING in print. So, I reached out to my local librarian who reached out to librarians at some of the major libraries…but even they didn’t have much. One sent some photos of the street where Sarah’s store had been located in downtown Chicago. Another sent an advertisement from a local newspaper of the era showing a listing for Sarah’s store. And I checked the census records for Chicago in 1870 when Sarah’s family first lived there and she was 15 years old and then in 1880 when she was already a married woman with a child. In addition, I reached out to the cemetery where Sarah and her family are buried and the cemetery records person sent me a list of the people who are buried in Sarah’s family plot. You need to be persistent and proactive with your research…and most important of all, you need to be precise and keep accurate accounts of where you find all of your information BECAUSE, when your manuscript is bought, the editor and fact-checkers may want to see your documentation.

Mentor texts are valuable in that they are helpful in studying various techniques, strategies, and formats an author uses in his/her writing. Did you use any mentor texts before you began writing the story of Sarah? If you did, please share with us?

I love mentor texts…and always recommend them when I do critiques and give feedback to other writers. For Sweet Dreams, Sarah, I used many including:

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel

Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story of the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine

Elizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote by Tanya Lee Stone

After studying the mentor texts, did you have a specific plan in mind as to how you wanted your story to unfold? Story structure? Theme? Craft elements? Tell us how you went about writing your story.

I knew I wanted to grab the reader’s attention immediately…for me, the opening lines are a key element in picture book writing. It’s my way into the story…and the style of the opening lines is kind of how I want the story to unfold. So, as a lover of the element of three, I started the story with three lines:

Before the Civil War, Sarah obeyed her owner.

Hurry up!

            Eyes down!

                        Don’t speak!

Slaves were property—like a cow or plow or the cotton that grew in the master’s fields.

And then I continued that format on the next page:

But every day Sarah dreamed of a different life.

A husband.

            A family.

                        A job that she loved.

Her father was a carpenter. With a hammer in his hands, he could build anything. Sarah thought she could, too.

Can you feel the rhythm of each spread? The element of three is very powerful…that’s why you can always hear it in speeches by politicians…for example: LIFE, LIBERTY, and the PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS. Three is a magical number…it sounds good to the ear and it feels good to the heart.

 And the ending has the same element of three:

This time a thick envelope arrived from the U.S. Government Patent Office.

Sarah took a slow deep breath.

            She slid out the papers.

                        She read out loud:

 S.E. Goode

Cabinet Bed

No. 322,177. Patented July 14, 1885

Staring at her name in print, Sarah proudly traced each letter. Her idea, her invention, her name in history. She had built more than a piece of furniture. She had built a life far away from slavery, a life where her sweet dreams could come true.

 I love how you circled back to the beginning and used the element of three at the end. 

Input from other writers and critique partners is an important part of the writing process. Were comments and suggestions from your writing colleagues helpful as you continued to revise your story? Did they make a difference in your final draft?

Yes! Yes! And Yes! I love my critique buddies…they are my support, my encouragement, and I embrace their feedback and suggestions. I don’t always do everything they advise…and sometimes I keep something if I am very passionate about it. For instance, the instructor of that nonfiction picture book writing class had advised I change the beginning. She felt it needed more action and so I placed Sarah in the furniture store right off the bat, turning pages in a catalog and deciding that the furniture that was being sold was too boxy, too bulky, too big. But that didn’t feel right to me…I felt the story needed the powerful picture of slavery in the beginning so that readers could go on the journey with Sarah…from being owned to being the owner of a patent. And so, after several months of playing with the new beginning, I brought back the one I’d had originally.

How many revisions did you make before you were satisfied with your work?

Dozens and dozens…a hundred or more maybe? I sent it into Rate Your Story a month after I wrote it…and it got an ‘8’…on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the worst. So, I worked on it with my critique buddies…and sent it in again several months later…and it got a ‘3’. And then revised and polished some more and sent it to the Rate Your Story annual contest and it won second place for nonfiction picture books. YAY! And so, I knew I had a strong story and I began submitting that one, pretty much exclusively, whenever I had an opportunity to send a manuscript to an agent or editor. And it paid off because I got four agents who were interested…and, when I finally decided I would go with Essie White, she sent it out right away and we had a book deal with Creston Books within two months.

That’s amazing, Vivian! What can your fans expect next from you?

Thank you so much for asking, Cathy. I have two books in the pipeline for 2020…Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe illustrated by Alleanna Harris (Little Bee Books, Spring 2020) and From Here to There: Inventions that Changed the Way the World Moves illustrated by Marilyn Gilbert (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fall 2020). I’m truly excited about both of these books because the Ella/Marilyn manuscript was loved by so many editors but their sales and marketing teams said no…but it’s a wonderful story about the moment when the lives of these two icons intersected and they helped each other. And the Invention book is actually a compilation book of NINE full length, fully illustrated picture book stories, each capturing the AHA moment of that visionary who invented something that changed the landscape of the world. Both are filled with STEM components…the Ella/Marilyn with rich back matter and the Invention book with sidebar info.

And of course, my agent has several manuscripts out on submission and I am currently working on other stories. My only problem is that there are only 24 hours in the day…and I need many more than that to write all of the stories that are in my head and on my heart. Of course, I might have more time if I wasn’t as active on social media, but I do love connecting with the kidlit community and working with other writers and helping them follow their dreams. I truly believe that nothing is impossible if you can imagine it…and I’m thrilled to be living my dream.

Thank you so much for having me, Cathy! It’s a joy to chat with you!

The pleasure is all mine, Vivian. 

viv with SDS at Creston Lerner (1)

Vivian Kirkfield holding Sweet Dreams, Sarah at the Creston Books/Lerner Books booth at the Bologna Book Fair in Italy.

Other picture books by Vivian Kirkfield not to be missed.

Pippa’s Passover PlatePippa must find her Passover plate before the Seder begins.

Four Otters Toboggan An animal counting book that has an environmental theme.

Find out more about Vivian Kirkfield here.

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Bunnies or Ducklings?

Posted April 18, 2019 by Cathy Ogren
Categories: Holiday Books

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Don’t let these ducklings fool you. They’re the famous ducklings from MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey, and they take great pride in dressing up for special occasions. Hippity-hop on over the Boston Public Garden to see them during this Easter season. These ducklings will quack you up!

Here are some egg-cellent Easter books for your little ones. Check them out.

The Littlest Bunny

Here Comes the Easter Bunny

Happy Easter, Mouse! (If You Give...)

Happy Easter, Mouse

The Runaway Egg

The Runaway Egg

Llama Llama Easter Egg

Llama Llama Easter Egg

Happy Easter, Little Hoo!

The Golden Egg Book

 

 

 

 

It’s National Library Week!

Posted April 11, 2019 by Cathy Ogren
Categories: National Library Week

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This week we celebrate libraries, and today is Take Action for Libraries Day. Share your library story on Twitter at #MyLibraryMyStory.

There are big libraries and small libraries. There are public libraries, Little Free Libraries, school libraries, and home libraries. No matter what the size or shape, libraries are a gift to all of us. Be thankful we have free access to them and the amenities they offer to help improve our lives.

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“Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.”   ~Neil Gaiman, Author

 

 

 

 

Poetry Sings!

Posted April 4, 2019 by Cathy Ogren
Categories: National Poetry Month

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April is National Poetry Month.

Meghan Trainor sings, “…I’m all about that bass, ’bout that bass…” She’s got the rhythm. She’s got the beat. So does poetry. It’s all about using language to create rhythm and sounds that have the ability to elicit emotions. Meghan Trainor sings and so does poetry.

Poetry can be many things —evocative, lively, joyful, whimsical, humorous. During National Poetry Month, take some time to find your favorite type of poetry and enjoy!

Below are some delightful poetry book suggestions for young readers.

Sing a Song of Seasons

My First Book of Haiku Poems

Mary Engelbreit’s Mother Goose

National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry

More poetry book suggestions:

4 Great Kids’ Books for National Poetry Month

Other websites to check out for National Poetry Month.

Reading Rockets

30 Ways to Celebrate — A Poem A Day and More

 

 

Moving Day!

Posted March 28, 2019 by Cathy Ogren
Categories: Life and Family

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While his people move out, Eeyore has a temporary home of his own.

 

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“I might have known. After all, one can’t complain. Not much of a house, just right for not much of a donkey. I’d say thistles, but nobody listens to me, anyway.”  ~Eeyore

 

If you love Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends as much as our family does, check out this book that contains the original stories!

Winnie-the-Pooh written by A. A. Milne and illustrated by Ernest H. Shephard, Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2017.

 

What Is A Home?

Posted March 21, 2019 by Cathy Ogren
Categories: Life

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In one week, my daughter and her family are moving.

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Big deal you may say. For them, it is a big deal. With many moves behind them in both their single and married lives, they are now moving to a permanent home. No one is more excited than my husband and I are. No more storing their stuff at our house.

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We can now reclaim our basement. Yipee!!

I’ve always believed a home is where your heart is and what you make of it. It can be a cozy reading corner with your favorite chair, a kitchen where you can pump out delicious smells, a spectacular view from a window, a bedroom of your own, but most of all a home, no matter how big or how small, is a place where family gathers together.

Click on the covers below to discover which picture books you connect with?

 

 

Women’s History Month

Posted March 14, 2019 by Cathy Ogren
Categories: Women In History Month

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March is Women’s History Month.  It’s a time to celebrate the accomplishments of women from all ethnic backgrounds and walks of life.

Peek inside these recently published picture books about mighty women.  You’ll find stories that will encourage your little ones to dream big dreams.

Janet Collins was the first African American prima ballerina to perform with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

Mary Fields was the first African American woman stagecoach driver who helped settle the American West.

Rachel Carson was a marine biologist, conservationist, and began the environmental movement.

Spring After Spring: How Rachel Carson Inspired the Environmental Movement

Sarah E. Goode was the first African American woman to receive a United States patent. (Coming April 2, 2019)

Katherine Switzer was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon with an official race number. (Coming April 2, 2019)

Eugenie Clark is best known for her research on shark behavior.

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most Fearless Scientist

Mae Jemison was the first African American to travel in space.

Mae Among the Stars

Grace Hopper was a pioneer in computer programming.

Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code (People Who Shaped Our World)

For Older Readers

Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History . . . and Our Future! (City Lights/Sister Spit)


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