It’s my pleasure to welcome Jeannine Atkins this morning. If you’ve spent any time on Jeannine’s blog, you’d know how gifted she is as a writer and poet. She’s also the essence of kindness and calm. Jeannine’s posts are refreshing and heartwarming–perfect antidotes for crazed days.
As a child, Laura Ingalls Wilder traveled across the prairie in a covered wagon. Her daughter, Rose, thought those stories might make a good book, and the two created the beloved Little House series. Sara Breedlove, the daughter of former slaves, wanted everything to be different for her own daughter, A’Lelia. Together they built a million-dollar beauty empire for women of color. Marie Curie became the first person in history to win two Nobel prizes in science. Inspired by her mother, Irène too became a scientist and Nobel prize winner.
BORROWED NAMES is the story of these extraordinary mothers and daughters.
Can you imagine having the ability to create a story that ties in such seemingly different women? Here are a couple wonderful reviews:
“The images created bring powerful emotions to the surface, felt by the women profiled here and by those who read this gem that belongs in any literary cedar chest, as well as in every collection.” — School Library Journal, Starred Review
“In vivid scenes written with keen insight and subtle imagery, the poems offer a strong sense of each daughter’s personality as well as the tensions and ties they shared with their notable mothers. Writing with understated drama and quiet power, Atkins enables readers to understand these six women and their mother-daughter relationships in a nuanced and memorable way.”—Booklist, Starred Review
JEANNINE: I grew up loving books like Little House in the Big Woods and Little Women, and I’m still drawn to the past. I’ve been writing about history for a pretty long time, sometimes for picture books, such as Mary Anning and the Sea Dragon, or books for older readers, such as Girls Who Looked Under Rocks: The Lives of Six Pioneering Naturalists. While I’d written poems in the privacy of my journals, I didn’t think much about polishing and publishing them because, well, finding homes for stories about overlooked girls and women seemed challenging enough. But after learning that Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C. J. Walker, and Marie Curie were all born in 1867, I decided that spare image-based verse would be the best way to show the differences and connections between them. I trimmed narratives and shaved off words through draft after draft of Borrowed Names: Poems about Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C. J. Walker, Marie Curie and Their Daughters.
As I researched, I discovered new things about people I admired, and the worlds they lived in, too. I learned facts about radium, most of which didn’t go into the poems. I had to figure out what radioactivity does, then succinctly put it into words that readers without a solid science background (like me) might understand. But beyond technical questions, I also pursued the kind of things I want to know about friends just because I’m nosy or should we say curious? I wanted to know what the people I wrote about liked to eat, and what they liked to wear, and if they had pets and favorite colors. After often wading through abstractions, I tended to take note of any words that evoked one or more of the senses. Sometimes a color or simple object, such as a bread plate, rake, or butterfly net, gave me an opportunity to hint at a pattern.
I feel grateful that my labor of love found a home at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers. I understand that just as writing poetry felt risky to me, it will only be shepherded into the world by a brave editor and a publishing house willing to take a chance. Poetry gave me a way to work with facts and still let myself be surprised. I tried to show common places where readers could find sturdy bridges to lives different from their own. I hope readers will meet people who seem both wonderfully new and vividly familiar. And I hope those of you who are writing poetry won’t ever lose faith in the power of small words and the pauses between them.