Every now and then a non-fiction picture book comes along that you can just tell - the author had to write it. It's not just interesting facts, it's an obvious life passion, a story that has become as much their's as a part of history. For Jan Pinborough, this is that story: MISS MOORE THOUGHT OTHERWISE (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers). Today I have the rare pleasure of talking not only to the author, but also to the illustrator Debby Atwell.

Q. Welcome to you both and congratulations on MISS MOORE THOUGHT OTHERWISE!
Jan, this reads like a story that's been a part of you for a very long time. How did this story come into your life?

A.     It all started in 2004 when a dear friend of mine, Shauna Cook Clinger, was commissioned to paint a portrait of Anne Carroll Moore for a children’s library that Moore helped establish at Utah State University in Logan, Utah. “You need to write a children’s book about Anne Carroll Moore,” my friend kept telling me. I’m not a library historian, and I’m not from New York City, so I’d never heard of Moore.At the time I wasn’t even writing for children.But after reading Frances Sayers’s biography about Moore, I became convinced that children needed to know about this strong-minded woman who did so much to give the gift of books and libraries to children not only in the United States, but throughout the world—including not far from my home in Utah.

Q. Jan, it's difficult to take an entire amazing life and find a common thread that will tie it together in a literary form, but you did it with the line "Miss Moore thought otherwise." How did that line (and title) come to you. Was it like mining for gold, or a sudden lightning strike?
A.     It struck like lightning very early in the writing process. I had two goals in writing the book. The first was to let children know how they came to receive that indispensable yet much-taken-for-granted gift, the children’s library. Poet Walter de la Mare offered the best assessment of Moore’s towering contribution: “The children of this world will never be able to repay the debt they owe to [Anne Carroll Moore].” I thought that children deserved to know something about those whose vision and determination gave them the privileges of libraries and books.
     Today many libraries have fallen on hard times, and some people are questioning their continuing relevance, I hope my book will encourage people to rise up in support of libraries. In an increasingly digital age, we need once again to take up the cause of this great democratizing institution so that all children, not just the privileged, can continue to have access to the best books. To this end, people who visit my book’s website (www.missmoorethoughtotherwise.com) will soon be able to post their own memories of important books and libraries in their lives.
     My second, equally passionate, goal was to encourage “otherwise-thinking” children to value and pursue their own individualistic ideas––and thus to make their own unique contributions to the world. Anne Carroll Moore inspires me, and I hope she will inspire them!

Q. Debby, I love your almost folksy style - I think it is the perfect fit for this story. It struck a deep cord with me - reminding me of the great Grandma Moses and an old copy of The Night Before Christmas which I grew up with. What were your influences?
A.     Well, Elizabeth you have my number! I look at Grandma Moses when I need to remember to keep it simple. I also look at Currier and Ives for factual material, like a streetlamp or a train carriage. Finally, I look at Godey's Fashion plates for dress.

Q. Debby, can you explain your general method?
A.     Well, I first figure what is going to be most helpful to the reader's understanding of the story. Then I look for photographs or period illustrations which are exactly what I am trying to portray Often that one image will lead to an archive of great richness that fills me with a sense of atmosphere. I make a sketch or ten. When I've got the sketch right, I begin to paint. I do indeed paint with the intention of looking like an American primitve painter from the early twentieth century. That's where Grandma Moses helps me. She naturally creates a sense of delight, because she loves to tell a story in paint.

Q. For both of you, what do your creative spaces look like?
Jan: I work in an office in my home, surrounded by books and art that inspire me. As I work at my computer I see in my peripheral vision a framed print of Audubon’s Blue Yellow-backed Warbler. On the bookshelf to my right, I have some little paintings of the school Anne Carroll Moore attended as a girl, her father’s law office, and the Baptist Church in whose cemetery she was buried--all souvenirs of my incredibly inspiring visit to Anne Carroll Moore’s birthplace in Limerick, Maine.

Debby: Well, I live in Maine, so my work space shifts with the seasons between the sunniest room with the woodstove to the open and airy barn studio.

Q. And again for both of you, what was your path to publication?
Jan: A year or so after I’d begun trying to write the story, an opportunity unexpectedly opened up for me to attend a writers’ conference. Sitting on the shuttle from the airport to the conference, I met one of the presenters, the talented and generous children’s author Mary Casanova. When I told her the concept of my manuscript, she was enthusiastic, offered to critique it, and even gave me the name of her wonderful editor at Houghton Mifflin, Ann Rider. After returning from the conference, I sent the manuscript around to several other publishers. I couldn’t even get an agent to return my emails. Finally, I gathered my nerve and sent the manuscript to Houghton Mifflin. After about seven months, Ann contacted me and said she’d be happy to look at a revision. After two more years, much more research, and too many more revisions to count, the manuscript was finally “final”—although many small changes came during the editing process. Then came the hunt for the perfect illustrator—Debby Atwell—followed by the year it took her to do the illustrations and the year after that it took for the book to be published. I was astonished at how long the path was, but all along the way I felt the presence of what Joseph Campbell called “a thousand unseen helping hands.” [[e here: I love that!]]

Debby: Perserverance.

Q. One last question for Jan. I believe every writer has a story in them that they are driven to tell, that they must tell. Is this yours? And how does it feel to have achieved that?
A.      Jan: Yes, I did feel driven to tell it. I’m not someone who writes for the sheer love of writing. In fact, it’s a bit of a torture for me. So I only write when I feel like what I have to say will really help someone or advance a cause that I feel is very important. If this book helps one child to believe that she, too, can make a difference in the world, it will have been worth all the work it took. If it only inspires a few people to value books, children, and libraries, it will have been worth it. I don’t feel this was my story to tell—only that somehow I was in the place where I could tell it—and surrounded by people who could help me do it.
     How does it feel? It feels very surreal. I really can't believe it has happened. Mostly, though, I feel very grateful--and hopeful that this "child" will go out into the world and make a difference.

Q. Please share any upcoming promotions you have for MISS MOORE THOUGHT OTHERWISE - perhaps one of my readers will be in your area!
A. Jan-
• Reading: March 23, 11 a.m., King’s English Bookshop, Salt Lake City
• April 13, 11 a.m. Barnes and Noble, Sugarhouse, Salt Lake City
• Speaking: September 19, Forum on Engaged Reading, Deer Valley, Utah (I’m very excited about this one. Inspired by our book, the Forum on Engaged Reading is creating an annual award for a librarian.)

GIVEAWAY!!! Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is generously giving away one free copy of MISS MOORE THOUGHT OTHERWISE to one of my lucky commenters - so be sure to get yourself in the drawing below! (Must live in the continental US to win. Review and award copies provided by the publisher.)

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Rhonda Miller said...

I would love a copy of the book so I can show my kids, nieces and nephews the value of a library. I love to spend time between the rack and racks of books at the local library and am trying to pass that love on to my kids.

Sarah Lamstein said...

Wonderful, Elizabeth! Thank you!!!!!!!!!

apple blossom said...

sounds like a very wonderful book thanks love to share it with my nieces

Unknown said...

Connecting kids and books is one of my favorite parts of being a children's librarian. Thank you Miss Moore and thank you for sharing her story.