Here’s another chance to win a copy of HONEY and to peek behind the curtain at the writing process. Kellee asked way I chose this specific moment in time for my book. Here’s an except from the interview:
Q: Why did you specifically choose this moment in Abe’s life to focus on? What did you hope to add to the Abe Lincoln narrative?
A: This story captivates me for several reasons. First, I love that we see Abe as a child—prone to distraction, earnest and loving, and with a deep compassion for animals. I feel it adds depth to our understanding of him as a man and makes him relatable to current children who might share these characteristics. Second, that Abe might not have grown up to be a man and our president without Honey gives me shivers. I believe Honey is an American hero, and that Abe’s kindness to Honey came back to bless him later. Kindness is something that causes ripples to go out and touch others in ways we usually never see. Finally, this is one of very few stories that features Lincoln’s mother, Nancy. Very little is written about his Kentucky years with Nancy, and she died shortly after the Lincolns moved to Indiana. That mother-son bond was important to him and is precious. I hope that this story fleshes out the narrative of Lincoln by showing his compassion from an early age as well as how his behavior was rooted in kindness. I also feel this story helps us appreciate the fragility of life and how interconnected everything is.
For the whole interview and book giveaway, go here.
On President’s Day, HONEY is getting some lovely reviews and attention. Here are snippets and links to a few.
“In her debut as a picture book author, Shari Swansonbrings a story to readers about Abraham Lincoln sure to find a permanent place in their hearts. His kinship with the natural world, his appreciation for all living things, is revealed in an expressive narrative woven with facts and through realistically depicted conversations with other people in his life. Readers will understand the significance of Abe’s perceptions in the wild. What if he had not heard Honey? Readers will also marvel at the astuteness of Abraham at only seven years old.”
“In a world where children are often limited in where they can wander without adult supervision, it is fun to be transported back to a time where children were able to have large areas to play. Swanson’s engaging text perfectly captures the relationship Abe and Honey shared and makes this a perfect read aloud. Chuck Groenink’s illustrations are a beautiful compliment to the text.”
A giveaway and craft idea in honor of our 16th president’s birthday from CelebratePictureBooks.com. And a review that gave me shivers of delight!
“In her enchanting story, Shari Swanson introduces young readers to the boy who would grow up to be the 16th president of the United States. Children meet this beloved man as a peer, discovering that his kindness, self-deprecation, sense of humor, and big heart were always part of his personality and guided him throughout his life, during good times and times of turmoil. Abraham Lincoln’s voice drives Swanson’s storytelling, which is charming and uplifting and gives a feel for the community that raised a president. Children may be awed by the responsibility Abe took on as a mere seven-year-old but will also recognize and appreciate his knowledge, competence, and confidence. Abe’s relationship with Honey is heartwarming, demonstrating that love and loyalty are repaid in many ways.”
If you are looking for a yummy rainy day activity, how about Honey prints? Here, I used pre-made sugar cookies already cut into the right size. Right after you get the cookies out of the oven, gently ease one Hershey’s drop and four little chocolate morsels into the warm cookie for the paw pads. Then let the cookies cool. Mmmmm!
I’m not used to being interviewed. It really brings out some interesting feelings. Here I share with Secret Gardener Linda Washington what advice I would give to hopeful picture book writers and my hopes of what readers will take away from reading HONEY.
El Space: Any advice for would-be picture book writers? What do you think a twenty-first century kid needs to see in a picture book? Shari: My best advice it to read your work out loud. Notice where the pauses and awkward phrasings are so you can fix them. I also think it is hugely important to make a picture book dummy, eight sheets of paper folded in half to make 32 pages, and block out your story. Where are the breaks? Are there interesting page turns? Is there something that is illustratible on each page? Finally, don’t give up. Take the time to create as often as you can. The joy is in the journey. I’m not sure what a modern kid needs to see in a picture book. I hope in Honey, a modern reader can both identify with young Abe—his distractedness, his love for animals, his desire to help—and think about the differences, too, like how Abe walked miles alone through a wild dangerous forest, so that the book is both timeless and grounded in its time.
What a lovely time I had in this interview with fellow Secret Gardener (Vermont College of Fine Arts, July 2012 class) Sandra Nickel. Sandra asks What was on…..? Here is my response to What was on the cutting room floor (Short answer — lots!):
Editing Room floor: To write a picture book, particularly a non-fiction one, there are just so many fascinating details that must get left behind. It’s much like Michelangelo seeing David in the block of marble; you have to trim out the non-essential parts. And that is tough. In this case, I left out all sorts of adventures Abe had with Honey, including a wildcat attack, the details of how Honey came to be injured at the base of a cliff and the bad man who pushed him there, and all reference to Abe’s best friend, Austin, who I absolutely fell in love with reading about the two of them together. (I am overjoyed that Chuck Groenink included Austin in one of the pictures!) Many of these details are in the Author’s Note, and lots more on my website, but it’s tough to cut things out. My editor, Maria Barbo at HarperCollins, Katherine Tegen books, suggested we do a timeline for the book with Lincoln’s encounters with animals over the years. That was a fascinating bit of research. As far as I know, these tidbits have never been collected together before. One detail that I found too late to include but love is an anecdote about Mary Todd Lincoln telling her husband that he shouldn’t feed the cat off a gold fork at the White House dinner table. Lincoln’s amusing response–“If the gold fork was good enough for President Buchanan, it’s good enough for Tabby.”
I am so excited to share the new Curriculum Guide for HONEY! It is chockfull of ideas for using HONEY to help subjects from social studies to math come alive, with an extra serving of language arts. Consider the life of the nocturnal animals Abe would have encountered when stuck in the cavern, trace his route to the mill, discuss how his compassion for animals revealed his character. And more.
Also the Activity Kit for HONEY is hot off the presses. Make a log cabin, help Honey find Abe, and think about all the ways Honey is an American hero. Plus more fun suggestions!