Interview With Maud Macrory Powell, Author of City of Grit and Gold

I recently reviewed City of Grit and Gold by Maud Macrory Powell, a great choice for historical fiction in a mother-daughter book club. Powell was kind enough to answer a few questions for readers here at MotherDaughterBookClub. com. Plus, she’s been in a mother-daughter book club, and she’s willing to Skype or call in to any group reading her book! Send her a note if you’re interested at maudpowell72(at)gmail(dot)com.

But first here’s her bio:

Maud Macrory Powell photoMaud Macrory Powell comes from a family of writers. She was born and raised in Washington, D.C. and studied comparative religion in college and environmental studies in graduate school. Maud and her husband run an organic seed and vegetable farm in the Siskiyou mountains of southwestern Oregon. They grow fruits and vegetables for their local community and raise vegetable and flower seeds that are shipped, sold, and sown all over the country. Maud thinks of her words and stories like the seeds on the farm- she creates fertile ground for them, cultivates and crafts, separates the good from the chaff, then scatters them as far and wide as they will reach.

Her essay “The Fruits of My Labor” was published in the anthology Greenhorns: The Next Generation of American FarmersCity of Grit and Gold is her debut novel. Find out more at MaudMacroryPowell.com.

And here’s the interview.

How did you get started writing for young readers?

MMP: City of Grit and Gold is my first book for young readers. I homeschooled my two children and our days centered around reading aloud. My daughter Grace and I were actually in a Mother-Daughter book club for two years! My very favorite books to read aloud were historical novels, as they transported us to different places and times, taught us about history, and the good ones had characters we related to and learned from. After reading so many books in that genre, I had a sense of how the novels worked and wanted to try my own hand at one.

What do you find challenging about it?

MMP: I enjoyed researching the time period and finding out more about what happened during the labor movement in Chicago during the 19th century, but I did find it challenging to figure out how much history to include in the book. A writer friend cautioned me early on to not get bogged down with historical research. She told me that I might want to include too many historic events and dates, and I might lose sight of my plot and characters. My goal was for kids to learn about the time period, but I needed them to believe in and care about Addie and her family first and foremost.

What do you enjoy most?

MMP: This may sounds strange, but I loved getting to know Addie and her family. I spent quite a bit of time sketching out each character, and once I started writing, they each took on a life of their own. When I went to write a certain scene, I wasn’t always sure what would happen or how the characters would interact with each other. As I delved further into the book, I continued to learn more about each character, especially Addie. The process of writing fiction is fascinating and incredibly enjoyable to me.

Why do you think it’s important for kids to read historical fiction?

MMP: I personally love history. We can learn a tremendous amount from the mistakes and achievements of those who have gone before us, and also understand why we face particular challenges and opportunities today. But more than that, I find it fascinating to learn about how people lived in the past. I think historical fiction is especially important for kids because the personal stories, usually told by or from the perspective of another kid, give them a way in. History presented in dates and events can be dry, but reading about how those dates and events affected a kid from that time period makes them relevant and exciting.

Why did you want to write about Addie and the tumultuous times in Chicago during the 1880s?

MMP: Of the dozens and dozens, perhaps hundreds of historical novels that my kids and I read, only one touched on the labor movement in America. It’s a subject I am particularly interested in and thought kids would want to learn about more.

The adults in Addie’s life are torn between living with conditions as they are and fighting for a better life. Do you see parallels in today’s world?

MMP: Yes- there are lots of themes in City of Grit and Gold that are relevant in today’s world. In particular, the 19th century unions were fighting for an eight hour work day, while today’s workers fight for living wages and better benefits. Addie and her family were immigrants, and faced some discrimination along with many other challenges of living in a foreign country. Today, our politicians are grappling with Immigration Reform and many immigrants deal with discrimination and the fear of deportation. Finally, issues relating to the freedom of assembly, the use of force by police, and the use of violence as a tool for change are all touched on in City of Grit and Gold. These are all very complex issues which are hard to understand and even more difficult to resolve.

Is there anything else you’d like to say to readers at Mother Daughter Book Club. com?

MMP: Fiction is easier to write than you might expect. I had been intimidated by fiction and was in awe of authors who regularly think up plots, scenes and characters. Starting my first novel was like stepping off a cliff – I had no idea where or when I would land. But I found that my mind was full of ideas and stories and people, and I believe that we all have stories to tell. Try it!

Book Review: The Doorway and the Deep by K. E. Ormsbee

The Doorway and the Deep cover imageThe Doorway and the Deep, sequel to K. E. Ormsbee’s The Water and the Wild, starts off with Lottie and her friends living in Wisp territory, where Lottie is taking lessons to sharpen her ability to heal others. She knows her friend Elliot will need her skills one day, and she wants to be ready.

But when the head of the Wisps makes a deal that sends her to the North, she once again sets out on a journey with her friends. There are dangers to be sure, and Lottie goes against her will, yet she’s also lured by the promise of finding out more about her parents.

The Doorway and the Deep should delight fans of the first book in the series, leaving them eager to read the next title. While there’s less exploration of Lottie’s relationship with her friends, there’s an expanding cast of fascinating characters and adventuresome exploits. Once again, Lottie has to determine who to trust and how to act on her own instincts. The book ends in a cliffhanger, but one that feels more satisfying than cliffhangers often are. It will be interesting to see where Lottie’s tale goes next. I recommend the series for readers aged 9 to 13.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Soldier Song by Debbie Levy

Soldier Song cover imageIn December of 1862 America was in the midst of fighting the Civil War. Union and Rebel troops squared against each other near Fredericksburg, Virginia, then hunkered down for the winter. The soldiers of both sides felt demoralized because of their losses, and the conditions they lived in were dire. Music provided a main source of entertainment.

Each camp could hear music played by the other, and they often competed with patriotic songs supporting their cause. But one night, a single song spoke to the hearts on both sides.

That simple story is beautifully told in Debbie Levy’s book, Soldier Song: A True Story of the Civil War. Levy is great at presenting nonfiction in a way that reads fluidly, weaving a tale that fascinates as it educates about history. She combines quotes taken from soldiers’ letters home and lyrics from songs of the times with historical fact to capture readers’ interest and hold on to it until the last page is turned. Then she follows up with a historical background that fills in the details of the Battle of Fredericksburg and the notable people who were there.

Levy also includes historical information about the song that inspired both sides, “Home Sweet Home,” a timeline of the Civil War, a selected biography listing more books about the war for young people, and info on the quotes she uses. It all comes together in a way that should appeal to young readers who like to read nonfiction and satisfy fiction lovers as well.

Gilbert Ford’s illustrations fit the mood of the text perfectly. Sometimes his drawings look cold and bleak, other times they flow softly like musical notes, and they capture well the fact that both young boys and older men fought the battles in the Civil War.

It’s not easy to tell a story about that period in U.S. history without coming down firmly on one side or the other, but Levy has achieved that with this focus on something that united both armies: the thoughts of home and loved ones waiting there.

I highly recommend Soldier Song for readers aged 8 to 10.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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Book Review and Giveaway: Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin

Grief Cottage cover imageGail Godwin’s Grief Cottage is getting rave reviews, including my own. I found myself savoring the book as it went along, not wanting it to end.  That’s why I’m happy to be able to offer my review along with one copy to give away to a reader in the U.S. To be eligible to win, simply leave a comment here by midnight (PDT), June 27, about why you like summer reading.

You may also be interested in NPR’s interview with the author. Personally, I always like to hear an author’s voice when I have the chance; it helps me get a feeling for her as a person. Now, here’s my review.

Grief Cottage Review

When Marcus’s mother dies suddenly in a car accident, he’s sent to live with his only other living relative, his great-aunt Charlotte, on an island in South Carolina. All he knows about Charlotte is that he’s heard she’s an eccentric artist, and when he arrives he finds her standoffish.

Left on his own during the day while Charlotte paints, Marcus is soon fascinated by a decades-old mystery: what happened to the couple and their son who disappeared during a hurricane in the 1950s. The crumbling cottage they rented still sits at the tip of the island, and Marcus believes the boy’s ghost inhabits it. What he discovers will resonate through the whole community.

Gail Godwin’s Grief Cottage portrays a boy in search of family, security, love, and acceptance. Marcus is sensitive and responsible, having grown up with a single mom who struggled financially. He feels deeply his tenuous attachment to his aunt. As his only relative, she’s also the only person keeping him from foster care and the instability being in the system may bring.

Godwin does a masterful job of portraying a sensitive character grieving for his mother, focusing on the ways he could have been nicer to her before she died, obsessed with solving a mystery, and desperate to feel loved and wanted. As he goes about his days and forms relationships with others on the island, he forges a new community for himself without even realizing the strength of those connections.

Grief Cottage is tender, sad, and hopeful. I highly recommend it for book clubs and individual readers.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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Excerpt From New Book by Alan Alda

If I Understood You cover imageI’ve just started reading Alan Alda’s If I Understood You Would I Have This Look on My Face? My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating. My review will appear soon, but in the meantime, I thought you may be interested in reading an excerpt from the book. I’ve gotten permission from the publisher to excerpt Chapter 12, which appears below.

Chapter 12

My Life As a Lab Rat
Testing an Empathy Exercise

I have a habit of experimenting on myself.

In my twenties, I was fascinated by the notion that a person’s temperature goes up and down during the day. So, to test the idea, for several months I carried a thermometer in my pocket and took my temperature every hour. No matter where I was. Understandably, I appeared a little weird to the people I had meetings with while I had this thing sticking out of my mouth.

I got caught up in the same kind of mania when I started looking for ways to practice mind reading on my own. I wanted to see if I could improve on my abilities at empathy and Theory of Mind and I was searching for a kind of personal human-contact workout gym.

I started by practicing reading the faces of strangers – people in the street, store clerks, taxi drivers – trying to get inside their heads and figure out why they were saying what they said, the meaning of their body language and tone of voice.

I practiced listening to people; asking their opinion about things. Even in casual encounters, I tried to see things through their eyes.

I did it everywhere I went. It was a little less obvious than walking around with a thermometer in my mouth, but no less obsessive. Surprisingly, it seemed to be having an effect on me. Maybe it was causing a change in the tone of my own voice or the look on my face. Something seemed to be changing, because the behavior of other people was becoming different.

One day, I hailed a taxi at Columbus Circle. The cab pulled up and the driver rolled down the passenger window and called out to me, “Where are you going?” When drivers ask you this before you get in the cab, it means they won’t take the fare unless they like where you’re going. This is against the law. I drove a cab for a while in my twenties and I know how annoying it can be to have to drive to far flung places – I once had to dig my cab out of a snow bank in the Bronx at two in the morning –but I went where the passengers wanted to go, because I knew I had to. When I get asked this question now, my usual response is not to identify compassionately with the driver, but to stoke the fire under my boiling blood. I went, pal, and so can you! is roughly my thought and I walk away without negotiating.

But this time, I looked him in the eye. I saw no hostility. Its the end of his shift, I thought. He wants to get home. Suddenly, I was all empathized up. I gave him the address, and he let me get in the car. I was surprised I didn’t feel my usual resentment at having to audition for a cab ride, but then he said: “What’s the cross street?” This was another flash point. I’ve never been there before, I thought. How am I supposed to know the cross street!? Isn’t that sort of your job? Ordinarily, I would start boiling again. Instead, I took out my iPhone and opened a map. “I’m looking it up for you,” I said. We were getting to be real team mates.

“Thank you,” he said. “I’m trying to get to a bathroom. I needed to go for the last half hour.”

“So, look,” I said, “Just drop me at 86th and Broadway. I’ll walk the rest of the way.”

“No. No,” he said. “You’re a kind person. People get in this cab, they don’t care about other people. I’m taking you where you’re going.”

“No, look,” I say, “It’s all right. It’s only a couple of blocks.”

Now, we were in an ecstasy of cooperation.

“Don’t make the turn here,” I say, “you’ll have to go four blocks out of your way. You’ll waste five minutes.”

“NO! You’re a nice person. I’m taking you to the door.”

I couldn’t stop him. This man was sacrificing his bladder for me. I wished I’d never started the whole thing.

I stopped practicing empathy for a while; it was exhausting. But I couldn’t stay away for long. I started in again, with a slight shift. I began to look at people’s faces not only to guess what they were feeling, but to actually name it. I would mentally attach a word to what I thought was their emotion. Labeling it meant that I wasn’t just observing them; I was making a conscious effort to settle on the exact word that described what I saw. This had an interesting effect on me. First, I felt I was listening more intently to what they were saying, even if earlier I had found them somewhat boring. And secondly, I would feel a sense of comfort, almost a sense of peace, come over me. It seemed a little bizarre, but so far it wasn’t causing people to sacrifice their organs for me.

The feeling of peace was probably just a sense of relaxation. Whatever it was, naming other people’s emotions seemed to help me focus on them more and it made talking to them more pleasant. I had no idea, of course, if other people who tried this would have the same experience, or if it was true that I was building up some empathy. Someone would have to do a study on it to find out. But I didn’t expect anyone to devote research time to studying such a cockeyed idea. On the other hand…

Alan Alda photoExcerpted from IF I UNDERSTOOD YOU, WOULD I HAVE THIS LOOK ON MY FACE? by Alan Alda. Copyright © 2017 by Alan Alda. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Book Review: Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

Real Friends cover imageBefore Shannon Hale became a New York Times bestselling author of books like Goose Girl and Princess Academy, she was a girl growing up as the middle child of a family in Utah. She had a great imagination and liked to make up games to play with her friends. But she was also low on the list of popularity among the friends she hung out with. And her older sister was often mean to her.

Hale has written about her experience growing up in the graphic novel, Real Friends, illustrated by LeUyen Pham. Hale belonged to a group of friends not unlike lots of groups in elementary school, with one person at the top and everyone else jockeying to be closest to her. Sometimes she hid in the bushes when other girls said mean things to her. When she finally got the courage to leave the group, she spent lots of lonely days on her own.

But Hale believed in her own ability to make up games and tell stories, and she eventually made friends who were happy with her as she was. It’s a tale that will encourage others who may feel like outcasts or those who are being bullied by the very people they call friends. In the end, Hale finds out who her real friends are and even finds a way to connect with her sister.

Reading Real Friends could be a way for moms and daughters to open a line of communication about situations at home and school. I highly recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs and readers aged 8 to 12.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: This Is How We Do It by Matt Lamothe

This Is How We Do It cover imageThis Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World by Matt Lamothe is a great book to introduce kids to what life is like for children around the world. It explores the lives of seven real kids from four continents. They live in Italy, Japan, Russia, India, Iran, Uganda and Peru. Each child is introduced with a name and sometimes a nickname in the beginning. Then, highlights of each of their daily lives follow.

For instance, a section titled, “This is where I live,” has drawings depicting an apartment house in Russia, a house made of wood and mud in Uganda, a two story home in Japan, and a tin-roofed loose-board construction in Peru as well as drawings of all the other types of homes.

As the book unfolds, readers find out about families, food, clothes school and more. Readers see real photos of the children with their families at the end, along with a glossary of terms. An author’s note says Lamothe’s tip to Uganda led him to be “amazed at both how different and how similar” the country was to the place he lived.

I recommend This Is How We Do It for ages 5 to 8.

The publisher provided me with copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: The Quickest Kid in Clarksville by Pat Zietlow Miller

The Quickest Kid in Clarksville cover imageAlta runs fast, just like her idol Wilma Rudolph, an African American sprinter who grew up in Alta’s hometown of Clarksville, Tennessee, and won three Olympic gold medals. But when a new girl named Charmaine with fancy running shoes moves to town, Alta wonders if her own holey-sole shoes will be her downfall. The two compete to see who can run fastest and end up mad at each other.

The girls make up and become friends when they have to work together to carry a banner to a parade to honor Wilma.

The Quickest Kid in Clarksville, written by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Frank Morrison, shows two young girls bonding over their mutual admiration for their hometown hero. An author’s note at the back of the book emphasizes why Wilma Rudolph was a great role model for young black girls.

Rudolph grew up in a racially segregated town with separate schools, doctors and restaurants for black people and white people. After she won at the Olympics, Clarksville wanted to schedule a parade and a banquet in her honor, but she wouldn’t agree to attend unless the events were open to everyone. Organizers agreed, and the celebrations were the first major events for blacks and whites in Clarksville history. More historical information about Rudolph is also included in the author’s note.

The Quickest Kid in Clarksville is great for children of all races both because of its historical perspective and because it shows kids learning to work through conflicts to find common ground and become friends.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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