On Writing, Poetry, and the Prairie: An Interview with Caroline Starr Rose

A note from Jamie: Today’s post is the first in a new book series I’m starting on Simple Homeschool–For the Love of Reading. Enjoy!

I first met Caroline Starr Rose almost 12 years ago when we both lived in the Washington, DC Area. We became close friends as we grew our families and our writing careers simultaneously.

Over the years Carrie taught me a lot–especially about being vulnerable and putting yourself out there as a writer. Visit her blog, Caroline by line, to get to know her better.

I recently got to chat with Caroline about her debut novel-in-verse for tweens and teens. May B. is a frontier story set in 1870s Kansas.

I’m so happy to feature my dear friend on Simple Homeschool today!

Check out the end of the post to see how you can win a copy.

An Interview with Caroline Starr Rose

1. Can you give us an overview of your book and the historical context of the novel?

Here’s a description from Random House Children’s Books:

I watch the wagon
until I see nothing on the open plain.
For the first time ever,
I am alone.

“Mavis Elizabeth Betterly, or May B. as she is known, is helping out on a neighbor’s Kansas prairie homestead, “Just until Christmas,” says her Pa. Twelve-year-old May wants to contribute, but it’s hard to be separated from her family by fifteen long, unfamiliar miles.

Then the unthinkable happens: May is abandoned to the oncoming winter, trapped all alone in a tiny snow-covered sod house without any way to let her family know and no neighbors to turn to. In her solitude, she wavers between relishing her freedom and succumbing to utter despair, while trying to survive in the harshest conditions.

Her physical struggle to first withstand and then to escape her prison is matched by tormenting memories of her failures at school. Only a very strong girl will be able to stand up to both and emerge alive and well.”

I wrote May for a number of reasons — my love for Laura Ingalls Wilder (and the desire to create my own strong pioneer girl), my curiosity about how learning disabled children would have fared in an era when their struggles would have been misunderstood, and the challenge of writing about solitude.

2. What is a novel in verse and how did you decide to create your debut work in this style?

A verse novel is a story told through unrhymed poetry. May B. didn’t start as verse. My first few attempts at writing the story felt distant and lifeless.

It wasn’t until I returned to my research (and specifically a book called Read this Only to Yourself: The Private Writings of Midwestern Women, 1880-1910) that I saw the patterns these women’s writings had in common: terse language, stark circumstances, a matter-of-fact tone.

It was as if the heavens had opened for me, and I was able to climb inside May’s world, using the voices of the women I’d encountered through research.

3. How did your life path lead you to writing as a career?

I’m a former middle school English and social studies teacher and have been an avid reader since childhood. Writing books was always a dream, one I started to take seriously in 1998.

I had no children at the time and was on summer vacation — there really was no excuse not to give it a try. By the end of the summer, I had the first draft of a (horrendous!) children’s novel about the Oregon Trail.

I revised during the school year and began contacting editors the following spring. This first manuscript helped set the pattern I was to continue until 2009: writing, revising, then sending out query letters to editors I hoped might be interested in my writing. May B. was my fourth novel and eleventh book overall (I write picture books, too).

4. What other books would you recommend to homeschooling parents looking to create a unit study of frontier life at the time of May B.?

5. Do you have any advice about how to nurture a love of writing within our students?

It is so essential to give children the freedom to experiment with words. Allow kids to write things you’ll never see (maybe have them keep a nature journal or a reader’s response booklet as they read their favorite books).

Give them a place that is a spelling and grammar-free zone. And most importantly, give them opportunities to write about things of their own choosing.

Two things I firmly believe: Children can’t find their writing voice unless they are given permission to explore a lot of different ways to write. Also, as any writer will tell you, not everything we create is meant to be taken to the final draft stage. While it is important to teach children the steps of the writing process (brainstorming, rough draft, editing and revision, final draft), not every piece of writing needs to be taken this far.

And one more thing: Pick up a copy of Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick and watch your young writers blossom.

Giveaway

Caroline is giving away a copy of May B. along with an accompanying teacher’s guide to five Simple Homeschool readers!

To enter, simply leave a comment on this post, answering this question: What is the most recent book you’ve read with your child?

If you’re reading this in an email, you must come over to the blog to comment.

If you’d like two additional ways to enter the giveaway, here’s how:

Additional Entries

1. Watch the May B. trailer embedded above. (Email readers will need to click through to the blog or watch here.) Then leave another comment letting me know you watched it.

2. ‘Like’ May B. and Simple Homeschool on Facebook. Then come back here again and leave a comment, telling me you did so.

This giveaway has now ended. Thanks for entering!

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She serves as editor of Simple Homeschool, and blogs about mindful parenting at Steady Mom. Jamie is also the author of two books: Steady Days and Mindset for Moms.

Comments

  1. We’re in picture-book season in our family right now, and the most recent new picture book is “One Bear Lost,” though we re-read lots of books each day! I also just started reading The Chronicles of Narnia to my toddler!

    Thanks for this kind opportunity and the interesting interview with Caroline.
    Caroline’s latest post: A Few Thoughts on Joy

  2. I love books with historical context. The book trailer intrigues!
    Caroline’s latest post: A Few Thoughts on Joy

  3. My daughter wanted me to read her one of the Sesame Street Treasury books tonight and my son asked for one of our Magic School Bus books. Those were the end of the books requested today. :)
    coleen’s latest post: aslan

  4. I watched the May B. trailer. It was beautiful–and fit just perfectly with my snow-filled day.
    coleen’s latest post: aslan

  5. Sarah,plain and tall

  6. My daughter received the Magic Tree House book “Dogs in the Dead of Night,” finished it, then asked me to read it to her. She likes knowing what will happen before I do.

  7. Brown bear

  8. My daughter and I recently finished A Wrinkle in Time. Before that, it was The Chronicles of Narnia series.

  9. I watched the trailer – well done!

  10. My 6-year-old has been reading me the Magic Tree House books over the past year. We’re now up to book #11. She reads to me at home, in the car, anywhere. But she won’t read it if I’m not there to enjoy it with her. It’s one book series that’s just between us.