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. Jennifer anderson says:

    I have “liked” both on Facebook!

  2. Oh, this looks great! We just finished the Little House series and are currently starting “The Rise & Fall of Mount Majestic”. My daughter loves the Ingalls (as do I) and I think she’d really enjoy this!

  3. Charolotte’s Web

  4. Jennifer anderson says:

    I just watched the video. I am looking forward to reading the book! Thank you for sharing.


  5. We are reading Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

  6. I watched the trailer.

  7. Brandi D. says:

    We are currently reading Erin Hunter’s “Rising Storm”, the 4th book of the Warriors series. All of my kids love it, but especially the 8-year-olds.

  8. Brandi D. says:

    I just watched the trailer, and it is thrilling! :) Will May B. make it through?

  9. Brandi D. says:

    I’ve liked both May B. and Simple Homeschool on Facebook.

  10. Catherine says:

    Just watched the trailer and showed it to my kids. Now we’re all excited to read it!

  11. Just watched the video. Nicely done : )

  12. Nancy Mosley says:

    We are reading an Animal Ark book called Labrador in the Leaves. My children love animals and have enjoyed these quick reads. We are also reading a Christopher Columbus book for our History.

  13. Nancy Mosley says:

    I watched the trailer. Very well done — the music is beautiful, the scenery and it captures your attention. Sounds like a wonderful book. Thanks for the chance to win.

  14. It sounds like a wonderful book. We are huge Little House fans! The last book I read to my 5 yr old son this afternoon was City Dog Country Frog.
    shelli : mamaofletters’s latest post: Homeschool Priorities Part 3: Exploration * Nature

  15. We have just finished dr. Dolittle from Sonlight core A!

  16. Love the name and premise of this book — the trailer is very enticing! My 11-year-old loves the Little House series and I know she would love this book. She’s also really drawn in by survival stories and historical fiction. Sounds like this book has both!
    Renee Gotcher’s latest post: Ask a NextGen Homeschooler: What Textbooks or Curriculum Do You Use?

  17. We are currently reading Danger on Panther Peak, by Bill Wallace.
    Very nice video about May B.
    My daughter said it sounds sad. :{

  18. The Great Turkey Walk by Kathleen Karr is our current read aloud.

  19. I am reading the Harry Potter series with my two oldest. We just finished book 4.

  20. I watched the trailer. =)

  21. We just finished reading Riders of the Pony Express by Ralph Moody. It was good but my favourite is Little Britches by Ralph Moody. Great family read.
    aliben7 (at) gmail (dot) com

  22. Leah Schroeder says:

    The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

  23. I have enjoyed all of the other books you listed as a unit study with my kids, so I am sure I would enjoy this one as well. One of my favorite things about studying history from a child’s perspective is the independence that children had, and the huge contributions they made to family life. I can’t wait to read this book, and I love the cover!
    Jen @ anothergranolamom’s latest post: Book Recommendation and Book Club Ideas: Close to Famous by Joan Bauer

  24. I watched the trailer!
    Jen @ anothergranolamom’s latest post: Book Recommendation and Book Club Ideas: Close to Famous by Joan Bauer

  25. We are just finishing up Little House on the Prairie!

  26. I watched the trailer!

  27. I “like” Simple Homeschool and May B on FB!

  28. Lassie Come Home by Eric Knight. My girls would love to win this book.

  29. We just read the american girl series “Kaya” , about a native american indian girl from the Nez Perce tribe. We are getting ready to do a unit on the american girl “Kirsten”, who is from the pioneer times. Caroline Starr’s book sounds wonderful!! We would looove to read it!!!

  30. We also just watched the trailer! :) Beautiful! Looking forward to sharing this book with my homeschooling girl!
    birdy’s latest post: Meet Molly!

  31. Nancy Wang says:

    I watched the trailer–how interesting! I am particularly intrigued by her writing it in free verse.

  32. Nancy Wang says:

    I also “liked” May B and Simple Homeschool on Facebook. Thanks!!

  33. Just finished reading “The Mysterious Benedict Society”.

  34. I watched the trailer. Intriguing!

  35. I liked you both on FB.

  36. Well, I’m still reading to my kids and we read many books a day!

  37. I’m reading a different book with each child – Little House in the Big Woods with our youngest, The Snow Treasure with our middle, & getting ready to start The Betsy-Tacy series with our oldest:)!

  38. C. C. Reese says:

    Thanks for featuring this…can’t wait to read it!!!

  39. our recent finished book was the Greatest Christmas Pageant Ever and now we are nearly finished with Charlotte’s Web. Now that we are finally feeling like winter here in Minnesota, May B looks like the perfect read!

  40. watched the trailer and it looks like a great adventure!

  41. My sweet girl will be 13 in a few weeks. This would be a wonderful birthday gift for her. We love reading about the pioneers.

  42. I watched the trailer and forgot to say in my first comment that we just read Help! I’m a Prisoner in the Library

  43. We just finished reading Narnia

  44. I just watched the trailer. It is so attention-grabbing… can’t wait to read this!

  45. I like both on Facebook

  46. We’re reading “The Phantom Tollbooth” right now.

  47. I just watched the trailer. I think my daughter would love this!

  48. The most recent book we finished reading was The Strictest School in the World.

  49. Jennifer R says:

    I would love to get this book! I watched the trailer and liked them both on facebook! Sounds like a wonderful book!

  50. Jennifer R says:

    The most recent book I read to my children would be The Ballot Box Battle.