Growing up on the coast of North Carolina as a young girl, you can bet I spent a lot of school time studying the details of the Lost Colony of Roanoke. I remember being eerily fascinated by the story–I even imagined myself heading to the Outer Banks and being the one to ultimately solve the mystery!
Little did I know back then that one day this story would reappear in my life–through one of my closest friends, author Caroline Starr Rose.
Her newly released novel-in-verse, Blue Birds (for ages 10 and up), takes a story of forbidden friendship and places it right in the middle of one of the greatest mysteries in history:
“It’s 1587 and twelve-year-old Alis has made the long journey with her parents from England to help settle the New World, the land christened Virginia in honor of the Queen. And Alis couldn’t be happier. While the streets of London were crowded and dirty, this new land, with its trees and birds and sky, calls to Alis. Here she feels free. But the land, the island Roanoke, is also inhabited by the Roanoke tribe and tensions between them and the English are running high, soon turning deadly.
Amid the strife, Alis meets and befriends Kimi, a Roanoke girl about her age. Though the two don’t even speak the same language, these girls form a special bond as close as sisters, willing to risk everything for the other. Finally, Alis must make an impossible choice when her family resolves to leave the island and bloodshed behind.“
I was beyond blown away when I found out that Caroline had chosen to dedicate this book to me. (As in, ugly cry at the dining table blown away!)
An interview with the author (& my dear friend), Caroline Starr Rose:
1. What inspired you to write this book?
In 2008 I was teaching fifth-grade social studies. We’d gotten to those textbook paragraphs about England’s first colony in the Americas. Reading about the Lost Colony of Roanoke along with my students, I remembered the fascination I’d felt the first time I encountered the story: 117 missing people. The word CROATOAN the only clue left behind.
Coincidentally, our most recent Scholastic book order had several Roanoke books available. I bought copies and peppered my students with the things I was learning. While I didn’t think about writing Blue Birds until a few years later, I can point back to this time as the book’s beginning.
2. Why did you decide to write this book as a novel in verse?
With my first novel, May B., I like to say verse is something that happened to me. Writing in a format I knew virtually nothing about wasn’t planned. But structurally it best served May’s solitude and the stark Kansas frontier. The verse became the most honest way I could access May’s life and her world.
In writing Blue Birds, I chose verse deliberately. For a genre like historical fiction, which is often viewed as distant or hard to understand, verse becomes a beautiful fit. It strips away the unnecessary and gives readers an intimate picture of a book’s central characters.
3. How did you go about your research and how long did it take to write the novel?
Photo of Fort Raleigh by Jasperdo
I always start my work by reading children’s non-fiction. These books give a great overview of an era while I’m in my exploratory phase. Oftentimes they include bibliographies that point me toward scholarly works and first-hand accounts, where I can dig deeper.
I use the Internet somewhat (the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site was a great resource, as was the Coastal Carolina Indian Center), but I really prefer buying used books and marking them up. I also keep a notebook for each project. It’s full of questions, notes, quotes, ideas, maps, and early character sketches.
I started my research for Blue Birds in 2010 and sent the manuscript to my agent in February 2013. It sold quickly, just a few weeks later (this is very atypical for me). My editor and I finished our work together in fall 2014.
4. What other books would you recommend to homeschooling parents looking to create a unit study of The Lost Colony/this time period in US History?
- The Lost Colony of Roanoke — Jean Fritz (ages 7-10)
- Roanoke: The Lost Colony–An Unsolved Mystery from History — Jane Yolen (ages 6-10)*
- The Mystery of the Roanoke Colony — Xavier W. Niz (graphic history format) (ages 8-14)
- Roanoke: The Mystery Of The Lost Colony — Lee Miller (ages 9-12)*
- The Summer of Lost and Found — Rebecca Behrens (ages 8-12) …coming spring 2016
- Sabotaged (The Missing, Book 3) — Margaret Peterson Haddix (ages 8-12)
- Roanoke: A Novel of the Lost Colony — Sonia Levitin (ages 12 and up)
* These are the two books I found in the Scholastic book order in my teaching days
Also check out the Fort Raleigh Junior Ranger Program, which can be completed without having to visit the site.
5. How can we nurture a deeper love for poetry in our homeschools?
Oh, I love this question! Because poets use line and stanza breaks to communicate (as well as words), I feel like it’s helpful to both see and hear poetry. But please don’t let this stop you from sharing poetry with your children in a more informal way.
My love of poetry started with A.A. Milne. Hearing and then reciting his words, I could feel the rhythm, rhyme, and repetition that is such a mainstay in his style. Poetry’s word play and its similarity to music were the things that fired me up as a girl.
Share all sorts of poetry with your children. Let it be playful, joyful, fun.
What the pros have to say about Blue Birds:
“Composed in varying formats, the descriptive and finely crafted poems reveal the similarities the two girls share, from loved ones lost to hatred between the English and the Roanoke to a desire for peace… Fans of Karen Hesse and the author’s May B. (2012) will delight in this offering.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A memorable account of a friendship that transcends culture and prejudice.”—Publishers Weekly