If “Little House on the Prairie” books are among your favorites, you’ll want to hear Caroline Starr Rose, author of debut novel “May B,” during her visit to the Library Center at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 16. Her talk in the Story Hour Room is open to all ages.
“May B” is a story about a young girl surviving on the Kansas frontier. Rose will go further into frontier life in her talk, “Buckboards, Buffalo Chips and Bloomers: A hands-on presentation about life on the 1870s frontier.”
Rose writes full time in Albuquerque, N.M., where she lives with her husband and two sons. You can read more about her at carolinestarrrose.com.
Library Center Youth Services Manager Sarah Bean Thompson recently interviewed Rose for her upcoming visit to Springfield. Here’s a glimpse into the author’s world.
“May B.” is set on the Kansas frontier. Why did you decide to write a historical novel?
I’ve always loved learning new things. Now that I’m a grown up, I can pick a topic of my own choosing and study it at my leisure. That’s how historical novels start for me – I pick a place or an event and immerse myself in reading, trusting a storyline will surface as I study.
Though I did well in history class as a kid, a part of me never felt smart enough to be a really skilled history student. There was just too much to know. And guess what? Historians don’t know it all, either. They specialize in certain eras or countries or topics. Even the most studied historian can’t possibly know everything.
What I love to think about is the everyday lives of regular people. I firmly believe the things that thrill us or frighten us or make us sad are the same now as they were at other times in history. Our outer lives are very different, but our inner lives share much in common.
For me, historical fiction is about digging into regular people’s lives, marveling at the ways they differ from our lives now, and connecting the common threads that speak to the human experience.
“May B.” is a verse novel – the story is told through poems. Did you always plan to write a verse novel? What do you think the appeal of novels in verse is for young readers?
“May B.” didn’t start as verse. I’d read all of two verse novels before writing “May B.” – a no-no in the writing world! An author is supposed to know her genre well before beginning.
My first attempts at the story were prose, and what I wrote very much frustrated me. It felt so distant from what I’d imagined. I set my writing aside and returned to my research. In reading first-hand accounts of Midwestern women in the late 1800s, I picked up on the similarities their journals and letters contained – terse language stripped of emotion and flowery description. I returned to my drafting, trying to mirror the style of these women. This was the key in discovering May’s voice and most honestly telling her story.
I don’t know why verse novels appeal to some readers and not others (it’s a style that readers often feel strongly about, one way or another), but I have a few ideas:
• Verse usually calls for a close first-person narration. As a reader, you feel like you’re living the story along with the character.
• Visually, verse novels are less threatening than prose. There aren’t dense paragraphs or long chapters, just poems that (ideally!) flow from one to another, making the story both easy to read through and impossible to put down.
You've lived all over the world – Saudi Arabia, Australia. Have your travels influenced your writing at all?
Good question! I’m not sure if there’s a clear cut answer to this, but I’d have to say my experiences living overseas and then returning home have often left me as an outsider – first in my new culture and then in my own. Maybe this is one thing May and I have in common – lives where we’ve both been the different ones.
Why do you write for kids?
I love kids. I love their honesty, their enthusiasm, their goofiness. The world is new for them – fascinating, frightening, super real – and so fun to examine through their eyes. I want to honor those feelings and experiences.
What were your favorite books to read as a child?
I love this question, and I’m sure every time I’ve been asked I answer differently. Here are some titles I’m thinking of right now:
• Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby and Henry Huggins books
• L.M. Montgomery’s Anne Shirley and Emily Starr books
• Lloyd Alexander’s “Prydain Chronicles”
• Hugh Lofting’s Dr. Doolittle series
• Mary Stolz’s Barkham Street books
• Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series
• PL Travers’s Mary Poppins series
• Norton Juster’s “The Phantom Tollbooth”
• Mildred Lawrence’s “Sand in her Shoes”
• Edith Nesbit’s “The Railway Children”
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