Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Two Fascinating Picture Books. One about Davy Crockett and the other about Trade

Today I am reviewing and interviewing Bobbi Miller about her two funny and well illustrated picture books. I hope you all enjoy.

Book 1-One Fine Trade illustrated by Will Hillenbrand is a wonderful story about teaching the concepts of barter and trade. Georgy Piney Woods “the finest peddler who ever lived,” has a problem. His daughter wants to get married and would like to trade her skinny horse for a silver dollar so she can buy a wedding dress. Georgy, being the devoted father, rides the horse up and down hills and through the woods in search of people who would like to do a trade. He ends up making several trades but none of them are for the item he desperately seeks. Then he comes upon the right person who has the need for what he has to offer. This is a great story that introduces children to the concept of trade. The amusing and well developed illustrations helps the reader understand the concepts clearly while making predictions about what Georgy is going to be encountering next. The concept of trade is one that has been used for years. More and more people, especially now when money is tight for so many, are trading their services to save money. These are lessons that children will learn in elementary school but will use throughout their lives. It is great to teach children the benefits of voluntary trade and this is a great children’s book to do it.
ISBN# 9780823418367 32 pages

Book 2-Davy Crockett Gets Hitched illustrated by Megan Lloyd is a wondiferous tale about Davy Crockett and Miss Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind. Davy, being the amazing outdoorsman, hears about a dance that is being held in honor of Miss Sally Ann. Always in the mood for good dancing and free food, he decides to attend. On his way, he encounters a thornbush, which causes a problem. When he gets to the dance he catches the attention of Miss Sally Ann, but not in the way that he would have liked too. The dancing then takes a more competitive turn and Miss Sally Ann and Davy end up having a dance battle for who can last the longest. This was a great tall tale about how Davy Crockett and Miss Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind first met and wed. It’s great to read children’s books that are entertaining and fun. Some of the words of the story are silly to say and the illustrations make you giggle with delight. This is a great book to use when covering the topic of Davy Crockett.
ISBN# 9780823418374 32 pages

Overall my children and I liked these books very much. They were unique and different, and yet informative and fun.

Joining us today is Bobbi Miller, author of Davy Crockett Gets Hitched and One Fine Trade. We’re going to talk to Bobbi about her new picture books.

Welcome, Bobbi. It’s great to have you with us.

Thank you for having me!

Please tell our readers a bit about yourself.

One would think this is a simple question to answer. I am a storycollector, and storyteller, and a writer who teaches writing. And a college professor who teaches reading. I’m an old lady who lives in the woods. I have way too many cats.
I have always been a nerd, and have finally come to appreciate it.

How did your writing career begin?

Isn’t this true of every writer: I’ve always written stories, from elementary classes through high school. I was also a heavy reader, and read everything. I was reading Charles Dickens in the fourth grade, and just loved Oliver Twist. So much so, that I copied the book, making it into a play: “Please, sir. I want some more!” No kidding. It wasn’t a very good script. But I just loved that Artful Dodger character and thought he deserved more space. I read Robin Hood stories, and wrote about the daughter of Robin Hood. I read about pirates – and you know it, I wrote about the Pirate Queen!

I wrote stories about my favorite characters in my favorite books! I wrote about being Alex Ramsey’s friend in the Black Stallion (by Walter Farley). Another favorite book was Wild Animals I have Known, by Ernest Seton, so I wrote stories about my dog Dixie. I thought Huckleberry Finn was just the coolest kid, although not very bright. But I loved Mark Twain.

So, yes, I was a nerd. But, underneath that nerdy exterior was a real pirate queen–cowboy- musketeer –soldier--adventurer. I didn’t ever want to be Queen Elizabeth, or the fairy Princess, or Mary from Peter Pan. I wanted to be Sir Walter Raleigh, the dragon, or Peter Pan! It seemed they had more fun, went to more interesting places, and did more interesting things. So those were the books that I read. And those ultimately became the books that I like to write.

I also liked school, and I also liked to research. (I did warn you: I am a nerd). I wanted to find out what else was out there. I wanted to find out how to write the stories.

So I went to school. My first degree was in writing fiction, more like a certificate of completion from a local writing two year (or was it eighteen months?) program. I remember nothing about those two years except that I was SO disappointed, because I knew still knew nothing about writing. So I went to a community college. I took every writing class, and ultimately majored in journalism. BUT, I also took every anthropology class, having discovered folklore. I was a full time student, working full time, who was also a single mother. Life was busy.

But now I felt like I was learning something! I went onto a four year program, this time majoring in Mass Media Communications, and minoring in anthropology. I took every course about writing and anthropology I could get into, including those classes that my degree didn’t necessarily require. After graduation, I began working as a freelance writer and editor. I wrote short stories. My first editor was Marion Zimmer Bradley (Mists of Avalon), and I sold two short stories to her.

I also continued my studies in folklore. I realized that many of the best adventures are on our own landscape! The western frontier, the Mississippi, the Civil War, the Revolutionary War, New Orleans, Boston, Chicago, New York, the Midwest and the Southwest, the coming together of many cultures, many languages and many stories — why, we have the BEST stories in our own front yard! So that’s what I began studying.

But, nerd that I am, I still felt like there must be more to learn. So I went to Simmons College, the Masters of Children’s Literature Program, where I studied the folklore process in children’s literature. I investigated voice and perspective, and most of all, the language of the storytelling process! It was a very good experience.

But – don’t you know it – I still felt there was more to learn. So I went to Vermont College (now the Vermont College of Fine Arts) MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Program. To tell you the truth, I think everything I learned up to that moment was preparing me for this experience. I worked hard to hone my skills, and I studied under true masters. Eric Kimmel and Marion Dane Bauer, I owe them for my life, true enough. It sounds sappy, yes. But when everything – every moment, experience, understanding – comes together to finally make sense and direction, it does becomes a sappy life-altering moment. I continue to call Eric my Guru, and Marion my ultimate Mentor. I also call them dear friends. That’s the experience of Vermont College, and I sense that everyone who attends the program walks away with a similar sappy moment.
I still carry that feeling that I don’t know enough, and I’m still learning more about the craft, and the stories. I’m thinking, I will never know enough – and that’s okay.

Tell us about Davy Crockett Gets Hitched and One Fine Trade.

These books were a part of my creative thesis while I was attending Vermont College. I studied under Eric Kimmel and Marion Dane Bauer, the focus of my study was voice and perspective, and language. I LOVE the organic nature of language.

For Davy Crockett, I researched both the myth and the man. I researched the historical context, including gender roles, so I have a feel for Miss Sally Ann. I also read his books to get a sense of his language and personality. My story is a combination of many tales, some of which he told, and some of which were told by others. I highlighted the recurring motifs, engaged in the language, and then created a story from that.

Stories tend to be organic, and sometimes outlines, research, and all the ‘great plans of mice and men’ need to be tossed as characters take over. In which case, I tag along for the ride. Miss Sally Ann is not your typical gal, as Davy Crockett discovered, and you’ll discover more about her in my next book, also illustrated by Megan Lloyd and will be published by Holiday House. She demanded to whoop it up, and I whooped right along with her.

What age group are these two books for?

While these stories are geared for ages two to eight, I hope all ages find them worthy.

These are two beautifully illustrated picture books. What inspired you to write them?

The language that creates these stories is as big and grand as the landscape itself. It is this audacious, bodacious, just splendiferous landscape and language that inspire me to write, these books and all my books.

In what forms is your book available? Is it available in e-book, hard cover or traditional paperback, or all?

Only hard cover, at the moment.

Have you written other books? If so, tell us about them.

Davy Crockett and One Fine Trade are my first published hardcovers. Two others are coming out soon, including another story of Miss Sally Ann, and one really humorous southern tale about a talking turtle and a rather slow fellow named Jasper.

I’m a prolific writer, however. There’s so many stories, and I want to tell them all. My mind is cluttered with all these characters stomping around. When I’m not teaching, I spend my time exploring the American landscape and the grand voices that make up the American story. I have three picturebooks out and about now, one of which is an adaption of an old Celtic Tale, The Children of Lir. Two others are original tall tales, including an original fable about a fox who gets outfoxed. In my fable, I don’t supply a moral, but rather ask the reader to make his/her moral of the tale. I can hear those discussions now!

Two big projects out currently under consideration includes a character driven story about a force of nature called Bruce. That’s also the title of the book. There’s a lot of stories out there about dragons, from fantasy to magical realism, to adaptations of old legends. When I read them, being the nerd that I am, I wanted to know the basics: dragons are big, which means they eat a lot and then poop a lot. Where does the food come from, and what happens to all that poop? How does one hide a dragon, literally? Why can’t we see dragons? Magic didn’t cut it for me, and that all knowing “Just because” also didn’t cut it. If there are dragons, are there dragon-hunters? If there were so many dragons in prehistoric and ancient times, where are all the bones? What would these bones look like? If dragons are so fierce and smart, how come they died out?

Another project I just finished, a middle grade about the battle of Gettysburg, called Mam’s Wisdom, as told through the perspective of the female experience, including a girl disguised as a Confederate soldier, the daughter of a middle class shop keep, a daughter of a freeman, and two enslaved . While there has been many books written on the battle of Gettysburg, few have taken on the female perspective, and none have included in their story the very significant perspective of the free African American experience or of the enslaved in Gettysburg. Gettysburg was a prominent location in the underground railroad. Many of the scenes in my book, including Picket's Charge, the wounded gathering at Weikart's farm, and the collapse of the cellar, are based on true happenings. I travelled to the area, and walked the entire battlefield several times to get a feeling of these places. Another thing I tried to do with this book is to bring these different perspectives and experiences together to show how these experiences did not happen in a vacuum, separate from one another, but were in relationship to everyone’s experience.
I also used this approach –bringing together the experience, rather than separating, or segregating, them – in my middle grade creative nonfiction, We Are Soldiers: The Story of Women’s Call to Arms. Extensive research, and somewhat overwhelming! There have been more than a few books about the female soldiering -- girls disguising themselves as men and taking up arms – during the Civil War. While my story began with this focus, I found myself asking more questions as I did more research. I had the help of a splendid editor with this process, and even went to Rutgers One on One Conference that furthered this investigation. Finally, I realized the story I wanted to tell: I expanded my story to look at all the wars, from colonial times through the Spanish American War, and included the African-American experience and the Native American experience.

And, this coming together of experience is also reflected in my current project, the re-imagining of the Annie Christmas story, a middle grade novel that blends tall tale with history. There’s pirates, and buried treasure, and riverboats, the War of 1812, New Orleans culture – and all its implications -- and the beginnings of the underground railroad. Some characters are based on real people, and some events happened. So research is extensive.
But Annie Christmas is stomping in my head, demanding to be cut loose.

For homeschool parents, such as myself, we are always looking for the best curriculums, workbooks, supplements and subjects to best teach our children. How can these books be used in the classroom?

This is an important element, and I address this very thing on my website. Because I also teach reading, one of my goals is to expand the reading experience. I offer additional resources, including links to lesson plans on how to use folktales in the classroom, and how to use my books in the classroom. I offer additional resources into my characters, to help expand the reading experience. I have a teacher currently working on more lesson plans, and will include these as soon as she is finished.

One Fine Trade can also be a tool in introducing children about trade and barter. These concepts are among the first economics lessons introduced to children in elementary school and in their own daily lives.

Also, I want to show how folktales help us to understand experiences and events not our own. For example, I include a website about folk tales, poems, and letters from Peace Corps Volunteers. In this site, volunteers expand and enrich the lives of students by allowing them to see the world as Peace Corps Volunteers do. A very different perspective!
Another website I highlight comes from The Fetzer Institute, in collaboration with the Institute's Generosity of Spirit project team. This program, Learning to Give , creates an interesting resource that helps foster awareness of the power of love and forgiveness in the emerging global community: “From earliest childhood we are captivated by the sounds of the human voice telling a story. There is an elemental, magnetic pull to hear the myths, fables and parables that are a part of our varied cultures. We learn early life lessons from these wise folktales with their colorful characters and episodes.”
My website is still new, and I continue to work on it to include more that hat further our understanding of our place in the world, exploring voice, perspective and experience.

Do you have a website and/or blog where readers can find out more?

http://www.bobbimillerbooks.com/. Designed by Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys. What a wonderful designer!

Where can readers purchase your books and how much do they cost?

You can purchase them at amazon.com, Borders.com, Barnes and Noble online, and independent bookstores. In fact, I have a list of links to these areas on my website.

I have read that your house was an inspiration for Davy Crockett Gets Hitched. How so?

I live in the woods, in a 1830s reproduction log cabin, a perfect place to explore larger than life characters! I write in two places: in my loft, which overlooks my gardens, and in my living room, which is a grand room with skylights and big windows. So, I am surrounded by landscape, literally. There’s a picture of it on my website. Very cool.
Final news: Nancy Polette, Director of the Laboratory School at Lindenwood University, MO and Director of the Library/Media and Gifted Programs in St Louis County Schools, lists ONE FINE TRADE as one of "the best picture books of Summer/Fall 2009 “.

So, life is good. Life is still busy. I’m still a nerd. But life is good.
Do feel free to stop by my website, just to see what you can see, and feel free to offer any insights, recommendations, and questions.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to our readers today. Good luck in all of your future endeavors. Please check out these wonderful book


  1. Fascinating stuff. Your books sound absolutely terrific, Bobbi. Cripto-Capers Review did you proud, mate. Who could resist buying both of them?

    The illustrations are simply delightful. I think the cover art can sometimes sell a book - along with a catchy title.

    Margot Finke
    Books for Kids
    Manuscript Critiques

  2. Thanks Margot! I am glad that you enjoyed it. Also, thank you, Bobbi. The books were truly a delight.

    Renee Hand