I had a lot of exceptional teachers growing up. Miss Hargrove, my kindergarten teacher, let me sit on a table and count to 100 in front of everyone. Miss Nixon was the first one to encourage me to “work without disturbing others.” (still working on that one) Miss Demeritt said, “Now, we both know that you know better than this” when I got in with the wrong girls in sixth grade and got in a tiny bit of trouble. She also told me that I could be a writer if I wanted, and later, she was the inspiration that encouraged me to study teaching. Thank you!
Miss Patrick was my 9th grade English teacher. I remember learning how to diagram sentences (yawn), and I remember watching with her and my classmates as the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on the television right before our eyes. Miss Patrick had applied to be part of that program, and there aren’t words to describe her reaction and the feeling in the room when that terrible event happened. Miss Patrick cared about those people, and she cared about her students.
Miss Patrick, along with a few other teachers, helped me practice the fine art of note cards, sources, bibliographies, and thesis statements–in other words–THE RESEARCH PAPER. It seemed daunting at the time, but today, as I swim through books, articles, and internet sources researching for my current book project, I am grateful! Don’t get me wrong; it’s still daunting–just not as scary.
Organizing sources and notes is a crucial part of the process when you’re trying to cram the life of an incredible person into a 32 page, illustrated biography for children. Could you write about your life (or someone else’s) in 1,500-2,000 words?
Today, I enjoyed a different kind of research when I visited Farmington Connecticut’s Hill-Stead Museum, a country home designed (and later lived in) by one of the earliest registered woman architects, Theodate Pope Riddle. There are rules against taking photographs inside the house, which is completely understandable, but I did snap a quick shot outdoors of this carriage that was once driven by Theodate’s father, Alfred Pope.
I had the privilege of viewing some family papers in the archives and speaking with someone on the Hill-Stead staff about my current work in progress, Architect of Dreams: Theodate Pope Riddle. I’m thrilled to make a connection with this great organization who is devoted to preserving a magnificent woman’s home and legacy. Besides, it is simply thrilling to see and hold OLD STUFF. Beautifully handwritten letters and diaries inspired me to learn more about Theodate’s incredible life.
Non-fiction and biography are new genres for me, and while I’m still querying my fiction picture books, I’m excited for a new challenge. I think the world will be better for knowing Theodate Pope Riddle, and I agree with her words:
“If I do not act, I shall wake some morning to find myself middle aged and sorrowing because I have not tried to make the world I touch a little better.”
–Theodate Pope Riddle
(quote from Dearest of Geniuses: A Life of Theodate Pope Riddle, by Sandra L. Katz)