Minna's Patchwork Coat - Guest Post by Lauren Mills

It Takes a Whole Lot of People to Make a Book
by Lauren Mills

      In the midst of writing and illustrating this novel, I was spending summers teaching drawing in the Children’s Book Writing and Illustrating MFA program at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia, which gave me the perfect opportunity to do further research on Appalachian culture. I audited Dr. Tina L. Hanlon’s class Appalachian Traditions and Adaptations in Children’s Literature, and I thank her for sharing many of her books and films and for bringing me to the Exhibition Coal Mine in Beckley, West Virginia. I also visited the Youth Museum and the Mountain Homestead, which provided pictorial reference information on the church, some of the log cabins, and the classroom.
      Some of the herbal information comes from my recent research on Appalachian and specifically Cherokee herbal medicines, but much of it comes from my years of training with herbalists, especially Rosemary Gladstar and the teachers at her New England Women’s Herbal Conference, as well as my studies with Native American healers and shamans of plant spirit medicine.
      The Foxfire books, a classic series consisting of high school students’ interviews of Appalachian people sharing their memories and “affairs of plain living,” were of great help. They hold a wealth of information on the crafts and lore of the Appalachian region. The Cherokee (Lifeways series), by Raymond Bial, and The Cherokee (First Americans series), by Sarah De Capua, were also helpful books on Cherokee traditions. I am grateful to John Rice Irwin, founder of the Museum of Appalachia, for reading The Rag Coat for historical accuracy years earlier. Mr. Irwin’s book A People and Their Quilts was one of the most useful texts on quilting that I consulted. Some of the patterns he discusses were used as inspiration for the chapter titles in Minna’s Patchwork Coat.
      The school I used as a model for the Rabbit Ridge School is the Nash Hill School, built in 1786 in Williamsburg, Massachusetts. I am grateful to my friends, the Marti and Black families, for preserving this school on their property, and specifically to Penelope (Souci), Charlotte (Lottie), and Hannah, Olivia, and Sherrie (Quilting Mothers) for posing as many of the characters and supplying their chickens, garden, old stove, and family quilt as handy references.
      I also wish to thank the Hartsbrook School for allowing me access to their goats, lambs, chickens, sheep, and playground, where many of the children and their parents acted out the scenes. I am indebted to all of the other expert actors who have helped make the book come alive, including Alexandra Irvine (as the perfect Minna); her mother, Anna Maria (Aunt Nora); Alexandra’s father, Peter (Minna’s papa); Alexandra’s grandpa John F. Nygren (Clyde’s grandpa); Talon Neville (Lester); Jasper Piermarini (Shane); Sara Rose Page (Minna’s mama); her daughters, Arya Rose and Layla Grace Page (younger children); Bisbee Hooper and Henry Lax-Holmes (Clemmie); Sophia Lax-Holmes (younger girl); Jonah Toran (Clyde); his sister, Ilana (younger girl); Stephen Katz (Shane’s father); and Louise Chicoine (Miss Campbell).
      While I was working on the drawings, I listened to lots of bluegrass music and wore clothing similar to what would have been worn during this time period, supplied to me by Magnolia Pearl, a unique company in Texas. Robin Brown’s designs include clothing handmade from homespun linen, vintage lace, embroidery, and even patches! I thank Faith Scott, who sent boxes of treasures for me to use as inspiration for the characters’ attire. I named the goats Magnolia and Pearl in gratitude.
      I also want to thank the many people at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for their wonderful work on this book, especially my insightful and encouraging editors, Andrea Spooner and Deirdre Jones, not only for their expert guidance but also for allowing me to find my voice. I also thank senior designer Liz Casal for helping me find the best solutions, and copy editor Erica Stahler and production editor Barbara Bakowski for their astute and helpful notes.
      I thank my writing group, composed of Dixie Brown, Barbara Goldin, Amy Gordon, and Dennis Nolan, for listening and commenting with the utmost care.
      I wish to thank my artist friend Koo Schadler, who knows the secret of illuminating the lights against the darks and the bright colors against the dull grays.
      I thank Dolly Parton for her inspiring song “The Coat of Many Colors.”
      I thank my parents for giving me an understanding of the soft stuffing that is inside Minna’s Patchwork Coat; Aunt Marcy (after whom I named Minna’s mama) for instilling in me a love of quilts; Nana for giving me a love of embroidery and the hills of West Virginia; and my sister, Brookie, who encouraged me to climb my own mountain and who tried her best to hike the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. Most of all I thank my partner, Dennis Nolan, for always being there in the most helpful, loving, patient, and wise way a body could be, and for telling me I must have been Minna in another life!

What motivated me -
     Just ​as the ​individual ​stories of the children ​in the book, Minna's Patchwork Coat, ​are​ part of Minna's coat​ and woven into her story​, much of my own life experiences and philosophies are interwoven and patched into th​e book as well. My heart and soul went into the​ ​​process. For me, the book was about making sense of bullying and trying to find something good in someone who has been mean, ​and ​of keeping faith and carrying a light after you've prayed and prayed ​for a loved one​ to survive​, has died anyway, and of being resilient and hopeful​ ​when times are tough. It's about my own grief over the loss of a simpler way of living and ​of​being closer to nature in a world that has replaced the walk through the woods to school or a horse ride to the village with sitting in traffic on the highway, a world where singing, dancing, sewing, and sharing stories together has been replaced with push-button entertainment. One could think I romanticize the poverty of Appalachia in the early 1900's, but at times in my life I have experienced circumstances much worse than what I've described in the book, so it is not that I look ​at the world with rose-colored lenses, but that I am trying to give a child, who may need a guiding light, a new way of thinking to get through hardship with hope, and for our push-button society​ - a glimpse into another way of life that we could make for ourselves with some effort.

About This Book
      The cover was painted in oil, and the interior illustrations were rendered in graphite pencil on Arches paper.

About the Author
      Lauren A. Mills is the award-winning author and illustrator of The Rag Coat and The Goblin Baby, and she has retold and illustrated Thumbelina, Tatterhood and the Hobgoblins, and The Book of Little Folk. She is also the author of Fairy Wings, Fia and the Imp, and The Dog Prince, all of which she co-illustrated with her husband, Dennis Nolan. Her work has been exhibited in galleries and museums across the country, including the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Her stories have been performed by storytellers and actors across the country and on the radio, and The Rag Coat was performed as a ballet by the University of Utah. Mills is a visiting associate professor of drawing in the Children’s Book Writing and Illustrating MFA program at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia. She invites you to visit her website at laurenmillsart.com.
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1 comment:

Lauren Mills said...

Thank you, Elizabeth!