Sunday, October 3, 2010


I first discovered Kay Winters when I attended an SCBWI workshop near Philadelphia - back before the turn of the century.

And then, a few years later, in 2002, I bumped into her at a history writing workshop led by Carolyn Yoder of Calkins Creek Books.

As an aspiring history writer, I was a bit awestruck by Kay who had published an impressive stack of books. (And yes, envious, too.) I haven't seen Kay since then - probably because she's been busy researching and writing books about Abe Lincoln, the Boston Tea Party, Ancient Egypt, and more!

I decided it's time to catch up with her a bit and fortunately she agreed to answer a few questions for me here.  So, join me, please in welcoming the lovely Kay Winters.

It's so great to have you here, Kay. Maybe we could begin by hearing a little about the themes you feel compelled to write and some accomplishments that you're most proud of.

I am drawn to people in history who focus on overcoming obstacles instead of complaining about them. In Abe Lincoln: the Boy Who Loved Books, we have someone who came from a very poor family, a father who did not understand or appreciate him, who went to school for less than a year. And yet he walked out of the wilderness into the White House. Again and again as a private citizen and as President he failed.He ruled this country at a time of the greatest divisions we have ever known. ( Even worse than current politics!) But he persisted. I was so delighted to discover that books made the difference to Abraham Lincoln, and this is a message I am delighted to relay. I was proud to be invited to sign Abe at the National Museum of History in the Smithsonian and to find the title included on a number of state reading lists.

In Colonial Voices: Hear them Speak, I wrote about  the townspeople in Boston at the time of the Boston Tea Party. I described their occupations, their  politics, their struggles, their hopes. This  book won the  Carol Hurst Children's Book Prize for the book which  “best exemplified the highest standards  of  research, analysis and authorship in its portrayal of the New  England Experience.” The local theater  did a  reader’s theater production of the book at the Colonial Harvest  day in Westfield, Massachusetts.  My  husband and I and several others also did a reader's theater  presentation of Colonial Voices at Old South in Boston where the tea party meeting took place.

Ah, nothing like seeing your work embraced and interpreted by the artistic community. Congratulations on both the reader's theater and on the Carol Otis Hurst book prize.  What an honor! Now I'm impressed (and envious) all over again!

I know you get to mingle and compare notes with other history writers.  And you must have a few that you really admire.  Can you tell us who your favorite history authors are?
  • My favorite author of historical picture books is Pam Munoz Ryan.  I love When Marian Sang because of the details Pam chose to bring Marian Anderson to life. The book is both poignant and compelling,  irresistible combination. Pam paints a portrait of a young girl who  is incredibly talented and determined to pursue her dream. When she is turned away from the Music School in Philadelphia because of her  race, she finds a teacher. When he is about to refuse her, she  opens her mouth and sings. When the  Daughters of the American Revolution reject a possible  performance at Constitution Hall, after she has  sung to royalty  in Europe, she sings to a mega-crowd at Lincoln  Memorial. I think this is an example of a  picture book that  should be in every classroom from K-8. Unlike  history text books this picture book and  many others, captures  personality, setting, a  time period in history in a way students are not likely to forget.
  • For Middle Grade Students and anyone in fact - Chains by Laurie  Halse Anderson is an forgettable historical  novel about a 13  year old slave and her sister and their harrowing journey to freedom during the time of the American Revolution. Only the 13 -year old survives.  This meticulously researched book is based on fictional characters but Anderson used letters, diaries, runaway  ads and military reports to develop her characters.  When I  finished reading Chains, I  thought this book is so  much better than many so called adult historical novels.I hope it  finds a wide audience with both students  and adults.
I love both of those books.  And now what is your favorite method of research?
My favorite method is on site research. When I did Voices of Ancient Egypt I went to Egypt twice, visited tombs and sites of ancient habitats. I sailed in a felucca, rode a  horse around the pyramids and a donkey in the Valley of the  Kings at Luxor.For Colonial Voices we went to Boston a number of times. We  also travelled  to Sturbridge and Williamsburg. I needed to check  out shopkeepers and their wares in these historic villages.   For my new book Voices on the Oregon Trail My husband and I  took that  journey by car, stopping to stand in wagon wheel ruts, visit  Trail Centers and Museums with dioramas, films and  artifacts, and photograph the prairie and the mountains. In  general,  I haunt the library, read diaries, journals,  letters, ads,  use film and on line sites and interview specialists in  the field.

Two trips to Egypt?!  History writers have the most fun, don't you think, Kay? And after you gather all that information, how do you weave fact into fiction?

In Abe Lincoln: the Boy Who Loved Books  all the quotes from him were authentic. None were invented. In Colonial Voices: Hear Them Speak, the characters were invented, so were their quotes, but in that book  almost every line on each page is packed with fact. I searched old books for samples of objects  that were used  at that time and mailed pictures of them to my wonderful illustrator Larry Day. So you see how he included  Whisper Sticks, for the Dame School, Wag on the Walls, for the Clockmaker, an old Tavern sign for the Tavern Keeper.  In this book I included a blacksmith’s slave and a Native American because they are often left out of accounts of the Revolution.

Thank you Kay, for sharing so many wonderful details and for introducing to several other amazing historicals!  And thanks to you, dear reader, for stopping by. 

Please visit Kay's website for more info on her and her numerous books.  But first, I want to mention that she has a new picture book out!
And she's giving away a copy via Talking Story, an E-newsletter co-produced by Carol Baldwin and me. Click on over to the current issue of Talking Story. Then visit the sidebar for instructions on joining the book giveaway contest!


  1. Great blog and interview with Kay. I must add her books to my "to read" list. And I too will salivate and dream about such long-distance research trips!

  2. Carol, it is great to tell stories from our own backyards. But Egypt sounds like a pretty neat gig, too!

    And clearly Kay knows how to do research!

  3. Kay is a great writer -- and presenter. Her enthusiasm is evident in her books -- and her programs!

  4. Hi Margie,

    Thanks for stopping by my blog and affirming Kay. She's terrific!