ROSA'S BUS by Jo S. Kittinger
Today I'd like to introduce you to the Regional Advisor for my local chapter of the SCBWI - the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Jo S. Kittinger.
Jo has worked so hard for many years to make our Southern Breeze chapter (Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi) one of the strongest in the country. We all owe a lot to Jo for helping us to be better creators on this difficult path to publication.
So, it is with great pleasure that I have the honor to announce the release of her latest picture book, ROSA'S BUS, illustrated by Steven Walker, published by Calkin Creek Books - an imprint of Boyds Mills Press.
Rather than focusing on Rosa Parks - who's simple act of remaining seated on the bus kicked off the civil rights movement which changed Jim Crow laws making America more fair for people of all colors - in this story Jo focused on the actual bus. I asked her about it...
Q. Hi Jo, thanks so much for sharing ROSA'S BUS! What inspired you to tell the story of the bus?
A. I was priviledged to talk with Donnie Williams, the former owner of the bus (before it was sold to the Henry Ford Museum). He had inherited the bus from his father-in-law and it had been sitting in a field for years, being overcome with ruin and rust. Hearing how his father-in-law had recognized the importance of the bus, and saved it from the junk yard, was very interesting. Donnie had written an adult book on Civil Rights and his editor was interested in a children's book. Donnie knew he wasn't a children's author, so he passed the story on to me. However, his editor had pictured a different approach to the subject, so she passed on my manuscript. But after more than a year, I still liked the story, so I sent it out into the world again.
Q. A little known fact is that several people refused to give up their bus seats before Rosa Parks. Why do you think her simple act finally drove people to action?
A. I think black leaders were waiting until an incident happened to someone around whom they knew they could rally support. The other girls had been brave, and helped set the stage, but when Rosa refused HER seat, the leaders knew they had their chance. Rosa was well known and respected among those working for improved treatment of African Americans.
Q. You were just a toddler when all this was going on - how did it impact your life?
A. The bus boycott itself had no direct affect on my life, but growing up during the Civil Rights movement certainly did. Seeing separte drinking fountains and signs that said "No Colored" in a day when those things were being questioned, protested and overturned, created an air of tension. Whenever I asked my mother about such things she'd say, "That's just the way things are." So the refrain in my book was from my own experience. In high school, black students were bused in to integrate our school. Thankfully, that went relatively smoothly. I am very pleased at how far we have come, but also see how far we still have to go.
Q. The paintings in the book are beautiful. Can you tell us a bit about the illustrator, Steven Walker?
A. I love the vibrant colors that Steven used, and think that his striking art is a perfect match for the text. I've never had the priviledge to meet Steven and we have not really talked, so I know little about him. But I was very happy that my editor, Larry Rosler at Calkins Creek, paired an African American artist with my words. I think that Steven was able to capture a stoic mindset that helped people of that time persevere through the boycott. Those feelings are something I can only imagine. Steven is primarily a fine artist, creating lovely oil landscapes. You can see more of his work at http://www.stevenwalkerstudios.com/
Q. How are you celebrating the release of ROSA'S BUS? And do you have more works for us to look forward to?
A. I'm enjoying visiting on various blogs and grinning a lot! I'd love to share the book in schools, libraries and conferences - so if anyone out there is in a position to invite me, I'd love to come!
My next book will be a fictional picture book -- The House on Dirty-Third Street-- which is currently being illustrated by Thomas Gonzales, the illustrator of 14 Cows for America. His artwork is INCREDIBLE and I couldn't be happier about his working on my story. I've seen a few sketches and can't wait to see the finished book! My editor at Peachtree, Kathy Landwehr, says it may be 2012 before the book is released, but I'm thinking it will be worth the wait :)