Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Another History Writer! MARY MORTON COWAN

Mary Morton Cowan likes writing about historical topics that today's children don't know about, particularly about New England or New Englanders. For example, in Timberrr...A History of Logging in New England, she focused on a unique, bygone era that today's children can never experience.

Published by Millbrook Press (2003)
Edited by Jean Reynolds

And 75 years ago Donald MacMillan was famous. But today hardly anyone has heard of him. Yet he spent nearly half a century exploring the Arctic and Subarctic! Mary felt that a book about him was definitely overdue! Now here it is!

Published by Calkins Creek Books (2010)
Edited by Carolyn Yoder

To celebrate the release of Captain Mac, I'm chatting with Mary today! BTW she's giving away a copy - see the sidebar - (top right). Or just leave a comment here saying you want it.

1. Mary, thanks for stopping by. I've got a copy of Timberrrr in my hands and well, it's obvious that you love research. Super impressive! What was it like researching this brand new book?

To me, there was something magical about peeking into Donald MacMillan's personal journals and letters and uncovering his own details of his life and explorations. Poring through more than a thousand of his extraordinary Arctic photographs made me almost feel I was with him. Talking with folks who knew Mac was also a thrill, and a great way to learn what people thought of him. And his schooner. For a Mainer, sailing is a rather common experience, but not on Mac's Arctic schooner, Bowdoin! His spirit is alive on that boat! I have been privileged to enjoy a few sails--real live research!

2. Which just goes to show that research is an adventure in itself. Got a Captain Mac research story to share? Some obscure detail you tracked down or some accomplishment you’re particularly proud of?

It's a bit daunting to write about another person's life. I'm particularly proud of the comprehensive research I was able to do. I examined everything I could find—and there was a lot! I had to dispel one myth.

Some years ago, a story circulated that MacMillan sailed to the Arctic 26 times on his schooner. After reading ship's logs, journals, and diaries from every expedition, I verified that MacMillan did, in fact, go North at least that many times, but not all on his schooner, as commonly believed. MacMillan collected reams of scientific data in the North and was careful to report it accurately. I knew he would not want a biography of him to be exaggerated in any way.

Yet I also found that Mac was a daredevil. I'm proud that I was able to write an accurate, yet exciting, account of his life and events. And, for the record, my footnoted version of the 35,000-word manuscript shows 1603 footnotes, some listing multiple sources!

Whew! Now I feel like a wimp. None of my books ever had that many footnotes. You must have made, Editor Carolyn Yoder proud! And maybe even tired! : )

3. You write about adventure in cold places. What is the most adventurous thing you’ve done? And what’s the coldest temperature you’ve experienced?

One big adventure was writing about MacMillan! I've never been to the Arctic, but I would love to go! I enjoy winter: I've done some winter camping, spent many hours on ski slopes, and once I hiked inside an awesome ice cave at the base of a glacier on Mt. Rainier. I've probably not been outdoors in much colder than 10 degrees below zero (Farenheit). But sometimes even zero can feel colder than that if the wind is blowing! And the wind blows in Maine!

One of the most adventurous things I did as a young teen was not in the cold, but to travel by train all by myself from Portland, Maine to Cody, Wyoming, to spend a month at a scout ranch.

Mary Morton Cowan at her angelic best!

4. Sounds like a blast! And it's obvious you're still having a great time. But tell us, if you could live in any other place or time period what would it be?

I'm fascinated by earlier decades, but I'm pretty happy living the way we do now. I would want to continue living in a northern climate. Nature's changing seasons are wonderful -- each splendid, and never boring!

5. And one last word or two?

I always learn a lot when I write. I am pleased and proud that these books give young readers a glimpse of relatively unknown history --dangerous and adventurous chapters of history!

Mary, you're a true adventurer! Thanks for sharing your research process and your enthusiasm with us. I'll be checking back with you on April 1 so that you can choose a winner in your book giveaway!

And you, dear reader - leave a comment telling us you want a copy of Captain Mac. You just might get one.


  1. Of course I want a copy of CAPTAIN MAC! And I will get one this summer--and autographed, too! However, if I win one, it will go to a library in the deep south where a blast of arctic weather in the 90 degree summertime will be most welcome.

  2. Okay - Joan, you are offically the first entry. But I will scramble the numbers later to make it all fair when Mary chooses!

  3. Love the photos and, of course, the book. It's so beautifully researched and written. Brava, Mary!

  4. Thanks, Barbara for dropping by! Do you have a copy of the book?

  5. Count me in for a copy of the book, if I could be so fortunate to be the "winner". I have a granddaughter who is loving reading and soaking up books like a sponge. I'd love to share CAPTAIN MAC with her.

  6. Yes, I do have a book. We received them at the February retreat.

  7. I would like to see a copy of CAPTAIN MAC in every library in America. This is a beautiful, well-documented book about a true hero-a "real" hero for today's youth. Like Donald Macmillan, Mary Morton Cowan is a disciplined researcher, writer, and presenter with a fierce love for bringing history and historical figures to life.

  8. Judith, I'll enter you in the contest. And if you already have a copy you can donate it so one more library has it! Thanks for your comment!

    And you are right about Mary and her dedication to research. She is incredible. Must be those cold NE winters that made her so strong.

  9. Sounds like another good book to read, and of course I would love to have a copy to read and then to pass along to my grandkids!
    WHo is the angel in the snow???

  10. Carol, the angel in the snow is Mary Morton Cowan. Maybe I should give it a caption!

    I entered you into the contest.

  11. I want Captain Mac --- and a pulled pork sandwich, and a good run by Texas A&M basketball team in the NCAA tournament.

  12. Celery Prophet - you are in! I'll do what I can about the pork and I can cheer for Texas A & M too but you might have to tell me when they are playing.