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.


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.


  1. wow! this is a very exciting giveaway!! the last book we read together was Wildwood! it is SO nice to share stories together as a family.

  2. watched the trailer! i look forward to reading this book! putting it on our list of must reads for 2012! thanks so much! xx

  3. I loved reading and writing as a kid and secretly dream of writing some day! This book looks excellent! We are currently reading The Princess and the Goblin for homeschool read aloud time! :)

  4. Watched the trailer! :)

  5. Liked May B. and already liked Simple Homeschool! :)

  6. This book looks fantastic! Right now we are reading Favourite Grimm’s Tales!

  7. Watched the trailer!

  8. “Liked” May B. and Simple Homeschool on facebook!

  9. This book really sounds fascinating! I am currently reading Little House in the Prairie to my daughters and Little Men to my son. They love read aloud time!

  10. We are currently reading Farmer Boy.

  11. Right before naptime I read a chapter from “House on Pooh Corner” :)
    Sarah M
    Sarah M’s latest post: Sunday Special: 2012 Movie List

  12. Well, I’m currently reading Tree in the Trail with my children, and just started Very Funny, Elizabeth! (an American Girl book). We got an audiobook from the library called “The Porcupine Year,” by Louise Erdrich, which may also interest readers with an inclination toward the American frontier. We enjoyed reading her book “The Birchbark House” a couple years ago.

    Would love to read May B.! It sounds almost like Hatchet, for girls! :-)
    Hannah’s latest post: A Day in the Life 2012

  13. Oh, and I watched the YouTube video (what a clever way to promote a book)!
    Hannah’s latest post: A Day in the Life 2012

  14. We are reading “By the Shores of Silver Lake” right now. We are making our way through the entire “Little House” series this school year.

  15. I watched the video.
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  16. I “like” Simple HS on FB.
    Nikki’s latest post: Persecution is Real for Many GFA Missionaries

  17. I like May B. on FB.
    Nikki’s latest post: Persecution is Real for Many GFA Missionaries

  18. Lawana Gray says:

    She read Norma Jean Jumping Bean to me the other night. We’ve just moved and still trying to unpack stuff to read together! This would be great!

  19. Lawana Gray says:

    I watched the trailer

  20. Lawana Gray says:

    I like you both on Facebook

  21. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Such a great book and my daughter is loving it!

  22. Hi Jamie,

    First I wish to thank you for your blog. Your blog has helped me to become more relaxed in my homeschooling endeavor, where I once used to be very stressed.
    Once again this post has helped me! It wasn’t until my senior year in high school that I learned and understood how to write. The Structure of writing…Without it, I would have flunked college writing.. The current curriculum I have been using for my oldest 11 yr old daughter teaches the writing structure at the 3rd grade level and continues to use it throughout Language arts…. I am glad for this, but because of my bad experience of learning almost TOO late, I have been a bit forceful with it. This has caused me to fear that I will scare my daughter away from the joys that writing can give to its author. While I love to read, I dislike writing. My husband loves to do both. My daughter enjoys to read and can read anything we hand to her. I just hope that her joy of reading will lead her to wanting to write for her own enjoyment. Your comment about the details/steps of writing once again helped me to realize that while they are important, they are not necessary for everything written. I need to to just SIMPLY allow my daughter to write, and at times enjoy the creativity behind the written thoughts rather than the details of structure. This is encouragement for me, to encourage my daughter.
    Thank You.
    I also watched the trailer, and wish to know more!
    I follow you on FB already.
    and am liking May.B
    I will also look for the mysteries of Harris Burdick.

  23. The most recent book I read with my two youngest homeschooled grandchildren was, Life-Size Zoo, which we all thoroughly enjoyed. I also recommend, A Material World by Peter Menzel for older children.

  24. We read Best Christmas Pageant Ever……Thanks!!

  25. Mr. Popper’s Penguins!

  26. I just watched the video and am looking forward to “meeting” May B.

  27. I like May B. and Simple Homeschool on Facebook :)

  28. We are finishing Treasures of the Snow right now. Would love to win May B!

  29. Just watched the trailer. Looks wonderful!

  30. Well… I am excited to say that we haven’t read any yet because now we get to start something new. From what I gather from the posts and the interview, something very good:)

  31. This book looks amazing!
    The last book we’ve read together was Leven Thumps!
    Kiersten’s latest post: Back

  32. What a great book! Currently we are reading The Snow Treasure and George Mueller.

  33. I watched the trailer. Thanks for the opportunity to win this book.

  34. The last book we read together was Sarah Whitcher’s Story.
    Beth’s latest post: Week 2 ~ 8 Weeks to Real Foods Course

  35. We watched the May B. trailer. This seems like my kind of book, adding it to my wishlist!
    Beth’s latest post: Week 2 ~ 8 Weeks to Real Foods Course

  36. LIKED May B. and Simple Homeschooling on FB, thanks for the chance to win!
    Beth’s latest post: Week 2 ~ 8 Weeks to Real Foods Course

  37. My son, who is three, and I have been reading “The Polar Express” and “The Blues of Flats Brown” in the evenings. To the point of May B., interestingly, I recently finished “The Personal History of Rachel DuPree” by Ann Weisgarber, which sounds like the adult version of May B. I have added all of Rose’s recommendations to my Wish List at amazon. They look like excellent titles for our growing library.
    Michelle’s latest post: New Theme: Fresh & Clean

  38. What a wonderful giveaway! We are reading Miracle at Maple Hill :)
    sandy toe’s latest post: Old Fashion Discipline…

  39. I already like Simple Homeschool on FB and just “liked” May B.

    Reading “The Long Winter.”

    Thanks for the opportunity to win!

  40. Just watched the trailer. It looks wonderful, and it was published on my birthday!

  41. I’d love to win this.
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  42. Natalie E. says:

    I watched the trailer and it looks great! I’d love to win this book.

  43. Natalie E. says:

    We recently read Mr. Popper’s Penguins.

  44. We just read (5 year old daughter) Where the Wild things are and are reading Where the sidewalk ends.

  45. I liked simple homeschool and May B. On FB

  46. What an exciting giveaway! The most recent book we’ve read is Half Magic by Edward Eager.

  47. Jessica M. says:

    We are reading Attack of the Turtle together for history.

  48. Jessica M. says:

    I like May B. and Simple Homeschool on FB!

  49. We read a ton of picture books today, including “The Tall Book of Nursery Tales” and “Puzzle Palace” (an Usborne series) and a bunch from “The 20th Century Children’s Book Treasury”… my 3 1/2 year old loves to read!
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  50. I watched the trailer!
    Pamela’s latest post: Menu Plan January 16 – 20