Barb Rosenstock is the award-winning author of several nonfiction and historical fiction books, two of which are about presidents. So we’re happy to have Barb visit the Mixed-Up Files on President’s Day. Welcome Barb!
Q: Before you were an author, you worked in marketing and taught elementary school. Did you always like to write? What made you decide to focus on becoming an author?
A: Lots of people have a dream to write a book, but I wasn’t one of them! In fact, when I was a kid in school, I didn’t think I was very creative or a good writer. I wrote for my marketing and advertising jobs, but it wasn’t until I went back to school for a master’s degree and student taught that I thought about writing books for children. I like to write stories that are based on facts because those were the kinds of books my own sons liked the best, and at the time, it was hard to find historical picture book stories that were fun and factual.
Q: Your book, Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library, is about how Jefferson’s vast book collection helped build the Library of Congress. It was just named a Recommended Book in the 2014 Orbis Pictus Awards for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children. Tell us how you came up with that idea.
A: I was working on a book about the Statue of Freedom that sits atop the U.S. Capitol. In reading about how Washington D.C. was rebuilt after the British burned it in 1812, I ran across the fact that Jefferson sold his library to the U.S. government. I thought if someone who’s spent as much time in libraries as I have didn’t know that Jefferson’s books rebuilt the Library of Congress, then maybe a lot of other people would want to know the story too!
A: Some of the broad curriculum topics this book would be great for include: The American Revolution, Life in the Colonial Era, Libraries and the Dewey Decimal System, Book Publishing, and Biographies. It covers at least 20 of the Common Core Standards. Teachers can find a complete Educator’s Guide for Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library along with lesson ideas and standards on my website – barbrosenstock.com, and at calkinscreekbooks.com.
Q: Tell us about your inspiration for The Camping Trip That Changed America, about Theodore Roosevelt’s and John Muir’s 1903 trip to Yosemite that helped create our national park system.
A: In a Chicago Tribune review of an adult book on Theodore Roosevelt, one phrase stuck out for me. It was “Roosevelt left the Presidency to go camping.” I kept wondering how a President could just leave to go camping. What was so important? Where did he go? On the Internet, I found the famous photograph of Roosevelt and Muir with the Yosemite Valley stretched out beneath them, and from there, the research just expanded, and expanded, for almost two years!
Q: Do you like to go camping?
A: Ummmm. No. Not at all. Not even a little bit. I’m not fond of sleeping on the ground, or in wet or cold weather. I love the wilderness from a nice warm cabin or inn, though — one with an indoor bathroom.
Q: What is your research process like?
A: I almost always get my book ideas when I’m not looking for them, so that first part is random. But once I have an idea, I typically start learning online, plus I always make sure that any new book idea hasn’t already been published by someone else! After that, I start working with my local library to access every book or article I can find on the topic. I visit museums or historical societies and email or call various experts. For The Camping Trip That Changed America, I worked with Yosemite’s library and experts on Muir and Roosevelt. For Jefferson, I worked with the staff at Monticello. I always tell students that the best information I get isn’t on the Internet or even in other books, it’s from people who love the topic I’m writing about and can tell more interesting stories about it than I can!
Q: Have you visited the Library of Congress or any national parks?
A: I visited Yosemite National Park when I was researching The Camping Trip That Changed America and that three-day visit changed the entire style of the book. At last count, I’ve visited six National Parks (but no, no camping!). I’ve never visited the Library of Congress but I hope to visit this fall.
Q: I love how your books share personal facts about Jefferson and Roosevelt. You have two new books out in 2014 and one in 2015! What are they about?
A: I have books on the painter Kandinsky, The Noisy Paint Box, that just came out a week ago, and one on Joe DiMaggio, The Streak, that comes out March 1. I have a book on Ben Franklin (not a president, but close enough!) coming in 2015, and I’m working on a book about the photographer Dorothea Lange now.
A: Yes, I’m foolish frequently, at least once or twice a day, most days many more times than that!
Q: Where would we find you on a Sunday afternoon? What’s your favorite ice cream flavor? Do you have any pets?
A: Since I like weekends, dessert, and animals, these are good questions for me! Most Sundays you can find me visiting friends, cooking, or reading while watching football or basketball games with my family. I’m afraid it’s boring, but I really like vanilla bean ice cream (with fresh strawberries on top!). I have two standard poodles named Nikki and Abby. Because of my dogs, people started giving me poodle figurines, and now I have a collection of at least 200 white poodles (statues, pillows, mugs, frames, artwork, etc.). It’s not as big as Thomas Jefferson’s book collection, but it’s starting to take over my entire office!
Thanks so much, Barb, for sharing all this with us today!
Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days, coming April 8 from Wendy Lamb Books, and Calli Be Gold, Wendy Lamb Books 2011. Visit her at micheleweberhurwitz.com.