Friday, April 2, 2010


I want to introduce you to a friend of mine. I've never actually met Jeannine Atkins but for a few years now, I've enjoyed reading her reflections on writing, books, and family. I feel as if I know her.

1. Jeannine, I believe you are a professor of Children’s Literature at the University of Massachusetts. Can you give me a little info about what you do, your approach to teaching literature, and your passion inregards to literature?

My students read what are generally considered classics, such as Charlotte’s Web, Alice in Wonderland, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, etc. Then we do what English majors usually do: tear the books apart. But with some reverence! We also look at picture books, which they usually find the most fun, and consider where are the lessons, where’s the joy, and what’s a good balance.

2. And of course there are many genres to choose from when reading or writing. So why do you write history? Why not some futuristic dystopian novel or fantasy or zombie story?

I write what I loved to read ever since I could find my way around a library. For whatever reason, I headed straight to stories about covered wagons and log cabins.

3. I’m guessing you love research. (If not, I don’t want to know about it.) If so, what is your favorite method of research? Or where do you get your best info?

There wouldn’t be much point in writing history if you didn’t love the research! I live between university towns so have access to great libraries, filled with many old beautiful books. Browsing is my favorite “technique”: roaming the stacks holding a call number for one book, but letting my eyes stray, can lead to important detours.

4. In your latest book, Borrowed Names, you tell the story of three mother-daughter duos. I am so curious as to how you chose these three:
• Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose
• Madam C.J. Walker and A'Lelia
• Marie Curie and Irène Joliot-Curie

I love reading biographies, and I happened to read ones about Marie Curie and Madam Walker close enough together that I noted they were both born in 1867. I started wondering if a writer or artist might have been born that year, too. At some point I wandered into my daughter’s room and put my hands on her collection of Little House paperbacks. Yes!

5. What was your biggest challenge in researching and writing Borrowed Names?

I first wrote the book as nonfiction for a younger audience. The information was good, but lacked the spark I found when I decided to change prose to verse and include the push-and-pulls mothers and daughters experience throughout their lives.

6. How do you handle dialogue and fleshing out anecdotes and sketchy info on your subject? Do you invent dialogue for your historical characters or stick to direct quotes?

Writing verse seemed like a good way to honor known places and incidents with detail, so readers can feel almost as if they’re there. I invent some dialogue based on what’s known about the real people.

7. If you could live in any other period of history what would that be?

I love reading about Louisa May Alcott and her contemporaries, which may be my favorite period, but I’m happy living at a time when I can use a laptop to write books and a blog! I think LMA would have been happy to ditch the inkpots and long dresses, too.

8. Anything else you want to share?

I think that’s it, but if anyone has questions, I hope they’ll feel free to ask them at my blog. They can also learn more about Borrowed Names at my publisher’s site.  Thank you, Joyce, for the great questions and for your passion for history!

Jeannine, the pleasure is all mine - both having you here and also the history part. 

NOTE TO MY READERS:  I'm reading Borrowed Names now. The free verse is eminently readable - so engaging!  And it doesn't really matter whether I knew the characters (Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose ( I did) or Madam C.J. Walker and A'Lelia (I did not), I love them immediately.  Great job!

Read an excerpt here.  Isn't that a book you want more of? Jeannine is giving away a copy here on my blog.  Leave a comment and I'll enter you to win. Get someone else to enter (they should tell me you sent them) and I'll enter you twice. DEADLINE IS APRIL 14. 

And that's not all. She's also giving Anne Hutchinson's Way - a picture book for olders.

 It too, will be given away on April 14.  I'll enter you for both books with one comment but they'll be given to 2 separate winners. 


  1. Amy, I entered you for both books! Thanks for participating!

  2. Beautiful excerpt. Just forwarded it to Linda Phillips who is writing in verse. Enter me into the contest too...would love the books!

  3. Carol, I just finished reading this. It's awesome!

    Was going to post a bit for Teaser Tuesday but I really need to write.

    I entered you for both books. I hope Linda enters also. Thanks for forwarding to her.