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. Jamie, thank you for hosting me today. I’m excited to see so much wonderful reading going on in so many homes. And I’m thrilled your latest book is soon to launch into the world!

    For readers here who are interested, I have a free PDF of my May B. study guide at http://www.carolinestarrrose.com.
    Caroline Starr Rose’s latest post: MAY Days #3: Launch Party Pictures

  2. I follow both on facebook!
    Pamela’s latest post: Menu Plan January 16 – 20

  3. I read caps for sale to my two year old.

  4. I don’t have any children, but I’m currently reading The Shakespeare Stealer with my 6th graders. :)

  5. I have two toddlers (and baby on the way). Tonight before bed we read: a little Hello Kitty book, a picture book from the library called “I’d really like to eat a child” (it’s about a crocodile), and one of the Just So Stories by Kipling.

  6. I watched the trailer and will also let my mom – a grade school librarian in Kansas – know about the book.

  7. We are reading the fourth (? I think) book of the Unicorn Chronicles–The Last Hunt. We have read the previous books as well. My son (age 8) likes the excitement and the fast paced nature of the story lines, my daughter (age 7) likes the fantasy aspect of the books, and I like seeing how the story line has “matured” through the books. In this last book the author now alternates between several points of view and we are keeping track of several different characters as we go through the book. In the first book there was just one character’s point of view. Also I like how the books are sometimes “predictable” and I can suggest to my children what might happen next. They are fascinated as to how I might know that and I can explain how the author hinted at the event. . .We all love to read together. Today, for language arts they read from Benny and Penny graphic story, alternating the parts. . .it was a lot of fun. Now I should move on to plays for them . . .

  8. Hmmm … I just finished Letters From Rifka with my ds 11 today.

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  9. illya gonzalez says:

    We are actually just reading Rachel’s Journal, the story of a pioneer girl.

  10. Watched the trailer.


  11. We are in the midst of Little House on the Prairie.

  12. We are reading through Little Folks Land right now. Can’t wait to read this book. sounds amazing!

  13. I watched to trailer – looks fantastic!

  14. I like you both on FB.

  15. Watched the trailer.
    Becky @ Sowing Little Seeds’s latest post: Routines

  16. We are currently reading Charlotte’s Web with my daughter. (I’m enjoying it too!)

  17. I watched the trailer–it was so well done! I’m not used to seeing trailers for books, but I really enjoyed it.

  18. What an exciting give away. We are enamored with the Little House books and appreciate the additional ideas. Would love, love, love to win. Blessings,

  19. Just watched the trailer.

  20. Just liked on FB, already had liked Simple Living.

  21. We just finished Charlotte’s Web

  22. Watched the trailer!

  23. just liked on FB both SH and MayB

  24. We read Strawberry Girl and looking for what to read next!

  25. Watched the trailer…very excited about May B!

  26. Just finished cricket in times square tonight!

  27. Hi Jamie.
    Thanks so much for this post – and the start of the new book series on your blog! My older daughter and I just finished reading The Secret Garden. We’re now enjoying the radio theater production (produced by Focus on the Family).

    Thanks for the opportunity to win a copy of May B. I know my daughter (and I) would both love ti.
    Cari’s latest post: Half Way Through Eight

  28. I just watched the trailer. Can’t wait to read it.
    Cari’s latest post: Half Way Through Eight

  29. Hi! We are reading The Secret Garden and just finished Trumpet of the Swan.

  30. And we watched the trailer, too. :-)
    Betsy’s latest post: A Recent Accolade

  31. Hi! I also liked May B. and Simple Homeschool on Facebook! By the way, I’m really looking forward to reading this to my little dyslexic 8-year-old girl. She is quite the innovative pioneer herself. :-)

  32. Oh, my. Well, I have read a dozen books today, of all sorts. But the most recent book I have read “with” my kids- that is, for the first time, of my own interest- are the Enchanted Forest books. We have book four now, but I can’t sneak it away from my nine year old daughter.

    I also have to say, as excited as I am about the book I am more excited about Ms Rose’s encouragement and empowerment for writing!

  33. I watched the trailer, it is beautiful.

  34. Fans of both May B and Simple Homeschool on facebook.

  35. I can’t see the trailer. :( I never can see things like that from where I am. Can I be entered anyway? I would do it if I could!! It sounds like a great book.

  36. most recent book: Rhyme Bible Storybook

  37. Last night my five-year-old daughter asked me to read Runny Babbitt by Shel Silverstein. She’s been going through a Shel Silverstein phase for about a month now!
    Christine Shuck’s latest post: I Raised Her Right – Homemade Presents – Redux

  38. Our current chapter book: The Root Cellar by Janet Lunn.
    Dawn Suzette’s latest post: White Christmas

  39. I watched the trailer… lovely.
    Dawn Suzette’s latest post: White Christmas

  40. Lindsay Sledge says:

    Love this! We are in the middle of Gooney Bird Greene.

  41. What a wonderful giveaway! We just finished a second book in the Meg Mackintosh mystery series (Mystery of Camp Creepy and Mystery at the Medieval Castle). We are about to start the Mystery of the Curious Whale Watch. Phantom Tollbooth is on the list too—so many books so little time!!
    MJ’s latest post: Here

  42. Watched the trailer, wonderful!! I bet it could be turned into a movie!!
    MJ’s latest post: Here

  43. I liked both on Facebook!!!
    MJ’s latest post: Here

  44. My 10y/o daughter and I recently read “Truckers” by Terry Pratchett.

  45. this sounds so great! and i love the cover! it all should totally feed my inner-child-pioneer, and hopefully my children’s.
    darah’s latest post: thursday

  46. and i watched the trailer
    darah’s latest post: thursday

  47. perfect timing … we are reading “The Long Winter” right now

  48. Finally got a chance to watch the May B trailer!

  49. We are reading Young Fu and Mr Popper’s Penguins.

  50. Jennifer anderson says:

    We just finished a biography on martin Luther king jr.