Tag Archives: historical fiction

Video Conferencing: Authors at Your Fingertips

Author S A Larsen

You’ve just finished reading a fantastic book with your class. The kids are engaged and the story is the topic of conversation. Go beyond the traditional project or book report and transport the author to your doorstep.

The Digital Age:
We live in a digital age, and fortunately for our schools, many authors are available to video conference. Location and time differences are no longer a deterrent. Many authors list video conferencing information on their websites. An internet search can also help you find available authors. Some authors charge a fee and some don’t. Chat with your author to see what terms can be reached. Link To Mixed-Up File Authors

If your school doesn’t have a budget for author presentations, be creative:

  • Take book orders from the students. Many authors are happy to sell and ship personally signed copies.
  • Ask the PTO to purchase class sets for the grade levels.
  • Offer to post  a review of the book on strategic websites.
  • Feature the book in the school newspaper or on the school website.
  • Post the book and video conference snippets on the school Facebook page.
  • Display the author’s name and book title on the school billboard.
  • Invite your local newspaper columnist to cover the class video chat.

Have fun and don’t be afraid to use your imagination!

Annabelle Fisher, author of The Secret Destiny of Pixie Piper, Skypes with a class of readers

So, you’ve booked the author. Now what?

Ask the author:
First, ask the author what they offer. Some will talk about their book and the background it took to write it. But, if it’s a science author, they may have a favorite demonstration to share. If it’s a picture book illustrator, they may draw the character for the kids. If it’s a fantasy author, they may demonstrate how to create imagery through descriptive writing from a new world.

Does the author request questions before the video conference? This helps the author give informed and well-thought-out answers. Poll your students. What do they want to know? Was there a fascinating section of the book they wanted to know more about? What about behind-the-scene events? Why did the author create a certain character? Did the author use traits from real people? Were any of the events in the book part of the author’s life? Were there unanswered questions in the story line? Help students focus their questions so they pull out unique elements of the author’s work. This is the benefit of video conferencing. You have the author’s ear! When conference day comes, let the students take turns asking the questions.

Student Created Games

Do students have something to share with the author? 

Did they create a skit? Did they write an alternative ending to the story or insert a chapter in-between? Did they write a quiz show or create a game that targets details from the book? Did they create trading cards of the different events and characters? Or perhaps your students would like to dress in character and the author has to guess the character’s identity.

Using Google Maps with author interview:
Also, consider things like Google maps. Students have the ability to bookmark a location on the world-wide map with their own information and facts. This is a great option for historical novels or any story that travels. Consider having students interview the author about the different locations and the importance of each site. Besides being a great project where students research and enter information on the world-wide map, people from around the globe get instant access to the information your students have entered. Extend the project by collaborating with other classes (from anywhere in the world) and build a map together.

Before you read:
Think forward. Invite the author beforehand to share background information and tidbits before you start reading. Why did they write this book? Did they face challenges? Does the story relate to their own life or the life of someone else? Who or what influenced them? Meaningful introductory conversations set the stage for an engaging beginning.

Authors love sharing and the age of video conferencing has opened up a new set of doors.

The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts: An Interview with Avi

As a big fan of other novels by Avi like Crispin: The Cross of Lead and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, I was thrilled to get to read an advance copy of The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts and interview Avi. If you’re devoted to middle grade historical fiction, action, and adventure, you’ll definitely want to read this one!

About the Book

In The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts, a young boy wakes to find his father missing and his house flooded by a recent storm. It’s 1724 in the seaside town of Melcombe Regis, England, and Oliver is alone with no money and no food. His father has left behind a barely legible, waterlogged note stating that he’s gone to London, where Oliver’s sister, Charity, is in some kind of trouble.

Exploring damage to the town in the storm’s aftermath, Oliver discovers a shipwreck on the beach. Removing anything from a wrecked ship is a hanging offense, but Oliver finds money that could save him from being sent to the ghastly children’s poorhouse, and he can’t resist temptation. When his crime is discovered, Oliver flees, following his father’s trail. His journey is full of cruel orphan masters, corrupt magistrates, and conniving thieves—but when he finally reaches his destination, Oliver finds that London might be the most dangerous place of all.

The Interview

All the reviews, which have been glowing and star-studded, compare this story to those of Charles Dickens. Are the wonderful similarities they note intentional? Is your book an homage to Dickens?

Thanks for your kind words about The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts. I am a reader and admirer of Dickens, but I think this book is cast more in the light of those great 18th century literary lights, Fielding, Defoe, Sterne, Smollett, et al.

My real homage to Dickens is to be found in Traitors’ Gate. It is full of references to Dickens and his life. Indeed, my hero there is named John Huffam, which is taken from Dickens’ extended name.

Oliver is a fantastic character. He’s pugnacious and funny and brave. There’s so much to love about him. Where are the points of intersection between Oliver and a contemporary twelve year old? Where do they diverge?

Young people today, as in the 18th century, lived and still live in a world created, and usually controlled by adults. Not necessarily a bad thing, and often a necessary thing.  That said, the young will often chaff under the restrictions, both physical and psychological of the adult world. Keenly aware of what is fair and unfair, they are the ones who should sit on the Supreme Court.

As I was reading your book, I was struck by the very tricksy way you use language. Here’s a bit from the first page:

On November 12, 1724, I, Oliver Cromwell Pitts, lay asleep in my small room at the top of our three-story house, when, at about six in the morning, I was shocked into full wakefulness by horrible sounds: roaring, wailing, and screeching. Confounded by such forceful clamors, I was too frightened to shift from my bed.

You manage to start with action but also language that feels appropriate for the 1700s. Can you tell us how you chose language that evoked the time period but was still accessible to young readers?

I have a great love of language and words. I enjoy browsing through dictionaries. (Short chapters!) English, the only language (alas) I know, has a huge and wonderfully rich vocabulary that has evolved over centuries. All of it is available to the writer.  (And language invention is welcome.) I love using old, but understandable words in a historical context. Indeed, when writing historical fiction one of the key challenges is giving the language itself a sense of the past. I think of the Unabridged Oxford Dictionary as my writing partner.

One of my favorite things about this book is how funny it is. As I read, I started marking particularly funny lines, and by the end, I had a ton of tagged pages. Here’s one of my favorites:

I am of the belief that when two adults exchange a meaningful look in the presence of a child, there is little doubt that the adults will have nothing pleasing to say to that child.

Oliver is both astute and funny in this passage. And what about the horrible Mr. Probert (who gets what he deserves if you ask me!), who says:

An authority has written: The sooner poor children are put to laborious, painful work, the more patiently they will submit to it forever.

And of course, in this description of Oliver’s father:

A stiff-rumped clink-clank.

I could go on quoting you to yourself for a long time, but instead, can you tell us about the role of humor in this book? Dickens wasn’t very funny. How did you work in the laughs and still end up with a book that feels Dickensian?

Funny is serious work. In this book, what is humorous comes out of Oliver’s character, who is often alone, and keenly observant. But it also derives from the historical style of the 18th century, which can be comical and satirical. Writers of that day looked upon the world with amusement, affection, and skepticism, as did our own Benjamin Franklin.

The poorhouse where Oliver ends up is pretty awful, and Oliver’s escape from it is pretty marvelous. Were there really places like that for children in the 1700s?

The poorhouse is based on research I did, even to the daily food allowance.  I also came upon an image of a punishment basket. The moment I saw it I knew I wanted to use it.

I know there is a ton of research behind this book. Were there any delicious factual tidbits that would have loved to work in to the pages but didn’t have room for?

As for what I left out, there is a whole library about British prisons, Newgate in particular, that could have been included. I somewhat regret that I did not use more of that.

We at the Mixed-Up Files are obsessed with middle grade literature. Why are you drawn to writing for this age group? What do you think characterizes middle grade and makes it distinct from young adult or adult books with young protagonists like those by Dickens?

I love the way middle-graders read. They are passionate readers, who can engage fully with the experiences depicted in a story. They embrace character and plot with enthusiasm. They care about what happens. They can be articulate about what they read, too, but not in a pedantic fashion. “It’s good.” “It’s bad.” “I loved it.” I hated it.”

“It was boring.” “It was exciting.” All cool.

They approach reading with both hands and an open heart.

I once had a letter from a middle-schooler which began, “I read your book, and it was boring at first. But by page two it got really good.”

I loved that.

They also like puns.

For the reader who adores The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts, which one of your other books should he or she read while waiting for the next installment?

Those who enjoy The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts might like the above mentioned, Traitors’ Gate, and also, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Crispin, Beyond the Western Sea, Catch You Later, Traitor—all adventures stories with historical settings, all character driven.

I know more books are in the works. Any hints about what dreadful fate will next befall our noble hero?

As for Oliver’s fate, he has been sentenced to be shipped to the American colonies and sold into slavery for a period of seven years. I am writing the book now, and he is not enjoying the experience.  Freedom calls, but an iron collar round his neck is not easy to get off. And where is his sister?  I’m not one of those writers who always knows the endings.  So, I’m working as fast as I can because I too want to know what happens.

About the Author

Avi is the author of many books for young readers including Catch You Later, Traitor, the Newbery Medal novel Crispin: The Cross of Lead, and the Newbery Honor books The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and Nothing But the Truth. He lives in Colorado. For more information, visit www.avi-writer.com.

Happy Book Birthday to Patricia Bailey and The Tragically True Adventures of Kit Donavan

There are a few great joys in the writing world and a book birthday is certainly one of them. But I have found more and more that one of the most enduring joys of working in children’s books is seeing someone who just a few years ago was tentatively emb
arking on the process of writing a whole novel. Someone who is coming to their very first writers retreat. Someone who has work that they are ready to share with a mentor or a critique group for the very first time. And then to see their work grow over time and their connections in the book world develop and then one day they have a newly published book. And so I couldn’t be more thrilled to introduce our newest Mixed Up File member Patricia Baily and her debut novel The Tragically True Adventures of Kit Donovan. I met Trish in 2011 at the Summer Fishtrap, a writers workshop held in the Wallowa mountains on the home ground of Chief Joseph’s band of the Nez Perse (Nimiipuu). Trish took my workshop and had a great story that she had worked really hard on. We’ve met several times at writer’s conferences over the last several years and every time Trish had grown as a
writer and gained confidence from her network of fellow writers. I couldn’t be more thrilled to introduce her to our MUF readers.

First things first. I think I saw some scenes from Kit Donavan in 2012, but how long have you been working on it altogether?
It seems like forever – but so much of that time was learning about the town of Goldfield and what was happening there during its boom years. I really started working in earnest on the writing in 2011 – when I received a Fishtrap Fellowship. So, I guess I’d say it’s taken six years to go from words on paper to a novel on a bookstore shelf.

The Tragically True Adventures of Kit Donovan is set in a real mining boomtown. Can you tell us why you picked that time period and a little bit about your research process?

I’ve always loved stories set in the Old West. And I’ve always been particularly interested in the Turn of the Century. There was such a clash of old and new – stage coaches and automobiles, outhouses and electricity. When I came across the story of Goldfield, Nevada – with all its drama and contrast – I couldn’t help but wonder what it must have been like to grow up in that environment. Lucky for me, a fair number of famous people passed through there, so the town was mentioned in letters and biographies that were easy to access. There’s also a thriving historical society in Goldfield and museums just down the road in Tonopah. I was able to go through old newspapers at the Central Nevada Museum and tour an old mine at the Tonopah Mining Park. I even got a private tour of Goldfield with one of the members of their Historical Society.

Historical societies are such a great resource for writers. I’ve been grateful for them many times over the years. I always struggle with finding the right names for my characters, and Kit is perfect. Is there a story or special meaning behind the names?
For some reason character names come to me pretty easily – which is good because I don’t start writing until I have one. Once I get an idea for the name that seems right, I look it up on one of those online name meaning sites to see if it fits the notes I’ve made about the character’s personality. In Kit’s case, it all meshed right away. There just wasn’t anything else to call her. She was Kit from the beginning – and it still feels completely right.

Kit is a spunky character – and one who is a little more outspoken than most girls at that time, which I love. Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to develop Kit?
Kit was an interesting mix of spunky and sorry right from the beginning. She spoke her mind quickly – and often regretted it when faced with the consequences of her quick-temper. The trick with Kit was to address both sides of her personality – the part of her who wanted to be good and fit in and make friends and the part that just couldn’t stay quiet when faced with injustice – big and small. One of the things she has to reckon with is deciding if speaking her mind is worth the cost. She also knows that there are expectations for how a lady is to behave. One thing that I wanted to do was have Kit notice all the different ways women could be in the world. That – at least here in the gold camp – all women weren’t necessarily defined by the traditional lady-like life she’d been dreading.

You live in a small town with fewer resources and a smaller local writing network. How have you managed to forge a writing community there?

I think most of my local writing community has been a direct result of our county library system. For years, I’ve taken every writing-related class they’ve offered – no matter the genre. That’s how I met other people who were serious about writing. It’s taken a long time, and lots of meet ups at the local coffee shop, but I’ve managed to find a few other writers to meet with regularly. Sometimes we just talk about what we’re working on. Sometimes we critique pages or share a resource. Sometimes we talk about what we’re struggling with. I love my online writing friends, but it’s a real treat to have people you can talk to face-to-face.

I’d never make it without my critque partners either and three cheers for the local library! Next time you’re at your local library ask them to get a copy of The Tragically True Adventures of Kit Donovan, a wild west adventure story with plenty of heart.