Do you love a great historical fiction book for kids as much as I do? Then check out my previous review of Wheels of Change by Darlene Beck Jacobson. Today I’m excited to share a bit more about this fabulous new book. Darlene graciously accepted my offer to interview her!
Jenny: Was your protagonist Emily Soper based on a historical person in real life or is she purely a work of fiction?
Darlene: Emily is the name of my grandmother whose father was a carriage maker in DC at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Grandma also attended a reception at the White House and met Theodore Roosevelt. Those are the facts; the rest is fiction.
Jenny: You manage to work a surprising amount of vocabulary into your book, making me think you must be a killer Scrabble opponent. Where did you develop a love of big words?
Darlene: My Dad – Emily’s son – was a wordsmith who loved crossword puzzles. He often used big words and never talked down to my sister or me. My sister and I still enjoy competing against each other in word games. Our favorite is PERQUACKY. As far as SCRABBLE goes, my son’s got me beat. He plays online and really kills me with two letter words.
Jenny: Ouch! Two letter words are tough.
One of the funniest scenes is when Emily bakes a peach pie under duress. That’s exactly how I feel whenever I encounter pie crust. Do you like to bake? What’s your favorite pie: peach, blackberry or apple?
Darlene: I really enjoy baking. Cookies and muffins are my specialties, but there is something satisfying about a fresh baked pie. Strawberry Rhubarb and Key Lime are my favorites.
Jenny: Thinking about the book is making me hungry! Another food related scene revolved around gingerbread. Kids today are likely familiar with gingerbread cookies, but not many have probably tried real gingerbread. Do you have a favorite recipe to share?
Darlene: Have you tried the recipe for Mrs. Jackson’s Gingerbread found in the back of the book? It’s actually a very simple recipe and produces a tasty gingerbread. It’s been adapted from the Fanny Farmer Cookbook of the era. Here it is:
Mrs. Jackson’s Gingerbread
¼ lb. butter or shortening
2 ½C flour
1 C sugar 2 tsp baking soda
2 eggs ½ tsp salt
¾ C boiling water 2 tsp ginger
¾ C molasses 1 TBSP white vinegar
- Grease and flour a square cake pan. Preheat oven to 350.
- Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl. Add eggs. Add water, molasses and vinegar. Stir until blended.
- Add dry ingredients to wet mixture. Pour into prepared pan.
- Bake 35-45 minutes. If a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out dry, it’s done
Jenny: Yum! That sounds good. Unfortunately, I can’t eat gluten but I bet my family would like that recipe.
A big theme of the book is Emily struggling with her mother and society’s expectations of what it means to be a “proper young lady”. She has to iron, keep clean, bake and stay tidy. When you were a 6th grade girl did you have expectations placed on you that felt like a burden?
Darlene: My parents never told us what we should or should not do. I’ve always been a goal setter. I get a great satisfaction from achieving goals that I’ve set for myself. There was always peer pressure and pop culture telling us girls to look and act a certain way; that still happens today. But then – and now – I choose to march to my own drum and do what feels right for me. I tried to convey that message to my own daughter as well.
All the expectations of my life have been self-imposed. I grew up reading Nancy Drew books. She seemed so cool and confident. It was fun to pretend to be Nancy. I think early seeds of feminism sprouted within me from reading books like that.
Jenny: That, and a life-long desire to buy a yellow convertible. Oh, wait. That’s my own reaction to Nancy Drew. 🙂
A very moving scene is when Emily’s family goes to visit their African American friend Henry in the Shaw neighborhood. For those of us who are unfamiliar with D.C., what is Shaw like today? Is it still a predominantly African American part of town?
Darlene: Washington DC is a much more urbanized place than it was 100 years ago. There is a large African American population as well as people of Hispanic, Asian and other cultures and ethnic backgrounds…much like any American city. Shaw suffered during the riots of the late 1960’s, and population declined throughout the district. It has been on the rebound over the last two decades. The Shaw section of the district is a mix of multi-generational professionals who are committed to revitalization of the area. It has become a very fashionable neighborhood.
Jenny: Civil rights, both for women and people, of color is a central element in Wheels of Change. When you were a child, did you ever witness a civil rights struggle that made an impression?
Darlene: While I never personally witnessed the struggles that took place, they were a part of the daily landscape of growing up in the 1960’s.
Jenny: Any new books in the works?
Darlene: I am working on a PB titled TOGETHER ON OUR KNEES about the childhood of a little known suffragist named Matilda Joslyn Gage. There is also another historical MG in the editing stage called A SPARROW IN THE HAND. This story takes place in the coal mining area of Pennsylvania during Prohibition.