Barbara Lowell’s BEHIND THE BOOKCASE – Author Interview

Children’s author Barbara Lowell returns to the blog to talk to us about her latest book, BEHIND THE BOOKCASE: Miep Gies, Anne Frank and the Hiding Place.

About Barbara

Barbara Lowell is the author of nonfiction and historical fiction picture books, nonfiction early readers, and nonfiction educational market books. Her books include GEORGE FARRIS WHAT A WHEEL, DARING AMELIA, ALEXANDER HAMILTON AMERICAN HERO, MY MASTODON, and more books for children.

One of her latest books, SPARKY & SPIKE: CHARLES SCHULZ AND THE WILDEST, SMARTEST DOG EVER, is a Junior Guild Library Selection.

 

Before the interview, let’s learn more about Barbara’s new book:

BEHIND THE BOOKCASE: Miep Gies, Anne Frank, and the Hiding Place by Barbara Lowell, illustrated by Valentina Toro

Release Date: September 01, 2020

Publisher: Kar-Ben Publishing

Genres: Picture Book, Nonfiction Biography

BUY THE BOOK HERE:
indiebound

Plot Summary:

​Anne Frank’s diary is a gift to the world because of Miep Gies. One of the protectors of the Frank family, Miep recovered the diary after the family was discovered by Nazis, and then returned it to Otto Frank after World War II. Displaced from her own home as a child during World War I, Miep had great empathy for Anne, and she found ways–like talking about Hollywood gossip and fashion trends–to engage her. The story of their relationship–and the impending danger to the family in hiding–unfolds in this unique perspective of Anne Frank’s widely known story.


 

The Interview

Valerie Lawson: I’m so happy you’ve returned to the blog for another interview! The last time you were here, your very first picture book was coming out. Now you have just celebrated the publication of your THIRTEENTH book!

CONGRATULATIONS! How have you changed as a writer from that first book, GEORGE FERRIS WHAT A WHEEL, to now? What have you learned about the publishing industry that surprised you?

Barbara Lowell: Thank you, Valerie! And thank you for inviting me on your blog!

What surprised me about writing and publishing is that writing a new book never gets easier. You think it would, but it doesn’t. I really didn’t have any expectations about working with an editor, but what I have found is that they are a joy to work with. I have learned so much from every editor’s revision skills and knowledge of the business.

I’m a more confident writer now then I was at the beginning, but I always remember that I have lots more to learn. It’s a joy to learn from many, many fantastic writers that have chosen to write for kids.

VL: Your newest picture book, which came out on September 1st, BEHIND THE BOOKCASE: Miep Gies, Anne Frank and the Hiding Place, has been described in a review by Booklist as: “A historically accurate but gentle introduction to the Holocaust for elementary-age readers.”

What else can you tell us about it?

BL: It’s the story of the young woman, Miep Gies, who as an Austrian child after World War I was sent by her parents to live in the Netherlands. She was malnourished as a result of the war and might have died. Families in the Netherlands offered to care for Austria’s children.

Miep loved the Dutch way of life and chose to stay with her Dutch family. In 1933, she became Otto Frank’s employee after he moved from Germany to Amsterdam to escape Nazi persecution. He is of course, Anne Frank’s father. Miep along with four other people, helped to hide the Frank family and their friends during the Holocaust in the annex above their offices. She had a close relationship with Anne Frank and after Anne’s arrest, Miep found and saved Anne’s diary. I think it’s important that children know Miep’s story and that she along with other brave people were willing to hide and care for an estimated 25,000 Jews in Amsterdam.

VL: You write nonfiction and historical fiction picture books, nonfiction early readers, and nonfiction educational market books for reluctant readers. What are the unique challenges for each genre that you have to make sure you address as you create each story?

BL: At present, I’m concentrating on nonfiction and historical fiction picture books. Everything I have written has required research. Fortunately, I love researching. I think the challenges are the same for each genre and for every writer.

Writing is hard. Finding the right focus and structure is the first step and often the most difficult. Then comes writing the first draft. I am so happy when I complete one because the next step, revising, is my favorite. I love the revision process especially after I receive feedback.

VL: I love the way you find the most amazing quotes and unique bits of historical detail for your stories. Talk about your intensive research process and how you find all of these great gems – if you don’t mind sharing your secrets!

BL: My ideas primarily come from reading adult nonfiction but some have come from visiting sites. When I visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, I knew I needed to learn more about Miep Gies. After reading her autobiography, I decided to write BEHIND THE BOOKCASE.

The idea for GEORGE FERRIS WHAT A WHEEL came from Erik Larson’s book Devil in the White City. I learned that 2,160 people could ride George Ferris’s Ferris Wheel, a structural engineering marvel, at the same time. I look for ideas that interest me and ones I think kids will find interesting too.

When researching an idea, I try to find as many primary and secondary sources as possible. When researching DARING AMELIA, I found a book by Amelia Earhart’s sister which gave me the line “It’s just like flying,” in reference to Amelia jumping up after crashing her homemade roller coaster. I look for as many sources as possible and dig until I’m sure my research is right.

With SPARKY & SPIKE, I read everything that Charles Schulz wrote about his life, and every interview with him that I could find although the book is about his childhood and his dog Spike, the inspiration for Snoopy. My sister gave me an idea recently. I bought an autobiography by the subject and found multiple other ideas in the first chapter. I guess it’s about paying attention. I love to learn so lots of things interest me.

VL: For you, what makes a great subject for a nonfiction or historical fiction picture book. What or who inspires you?

BL: It’s usually someone who has persevered despite odds and hasn’t given up their dream. What I love most is writing about children who have done something unusual, something that kids will find intriguing.

I’m inspired by good people doing brave things without regard for their own well-being. That’s why it was important for me to write about Miep Gies in BEHIND THE BOOKCASE. She is a hero to me.

Barbara at book signing for SPARKY AND SPIKE.

VL: I absolutely adored your book SPARKY & SPIKE: Charles Schultz and the Wildest, Smartest Dog Ever, about Charles Schultz and his own dog that inspired his character of Snoopy. Not only was the story fantastic, but also the comic book style illustrations were amazing. Talk about your experience creating and publishing the book.

BL: First, I think the absolute best illustrator for the book did the art. As if by magic, he had a letter written by Charles Schulz with a drawing of Snoopy. Dan Andreasen had written to Schulz when he was a child asking for advice about drawing. The letter is in the book.

The first manuscript I wrote was about Charles Schulz’s childhood through the first appearance of Peanuts on October 1, 1950. A freelance editor suggested that I write only about Charles as a child and his dog Spike. I took her advice and wrote a second manuscript. SPARKY & SPIKE is actually a combination of both manuscripts. Many of the earlier spreads were taken from my original manuscript.

VL: What drew you to tell the story of Anne Frank from a different perspective?

BL: It’s important for writers to find a new way of telling a familiar story. And I wanted to tell Miep’s story too, not just Anne’s. Miep was a remarkably kind woman who faced adversity and risked her life in attempt to save the lives of others. Anne Frank relied on Miep when she hid in the annex. She shared her struggles with Miep when she couldn’t with her family. Miep brought the truth of what was happening in the outside world to the hiders but she also brought joy to them. That’s why I told the story of the red high heels Miep gave to Anne.

VL: I know you love to travel, what are the most unusual places you’ve ever visited? And have any of your travel adventures ever inspired a story idea?

BL: The most unusual places were: Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia, a more remote part of the islands. Pitcairn Island of Mutiny on the Bounty fame, although we didn’t leave the ship, the islanders sailed to us. And circling Easter Island multiple times because the ship wasn’t able to enter the port safely.

I have one idea from traveling. I visited an amazing museum in Sweden and decided to write a story about what I saw there. But I haven’t figured out the best way to tell the story.

VL: What’s next for you? Can you share with us any projects you are currently working on or anything that might be coming out soon?

BL: I have a new nonfiction picture book that will be released in Fall 2021. I wish I could tell you the title and more about it, but it hasn’t been announced. But – it’s a story about the son of a very famous American. I working on more picture books both nonfiction and historical fiction and have one manuscript ready for submission.

We will keep an eye out for your upcoming book! Thank you so much for joining us, today, Barbara. It’s been a pleasure talking with you!

Learn more about Barbara by visiting her website HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

SCBWI Oklahoma April Twitter Chat Guest – Barbara Lowell

 

As the Social Media Coordinator for the SCBWI Oklahoma Region, I host a monthly Twitter Chat for our members (and anyone else who’d like to participate) where we talk for an hour with someone from the children’s publishing world, be it agent, editor, author, illustrator, etc. The conversations are always lively and enlightening.

We meet from 7-8pm CST using the hashtag #okscbwichat. If you’ve ever been curious about a Twitter Chat, stop on by! We love meeting new people.

Our next Twitter chat session is Tuesday, April 28th. I hope you’ll join us!

CLICK HERE to view our full #okscbwichat 2020 schedule.


Barbara Lowell is an Oklahoma author and an active member of SCBWI OK. She has several published picture books. Barbara finds interesting characters from history, researches them until she finds just the right way to tell their stories and, lucky us, we get to read them.

And she also happens to be one of my most beloved critique partners. I’m so excited we get to have a conversation about her books!

Here’s an introduction to Barbara:

April 28th – Barbara Lowell – Children’s Author

Barbara Lowell is the author of nonfiction and historical fiction picture books, nonfiction early readers, and nonfiction educational market books. Her books include GEORGE FARRIS WHAT A WHEEL, DARING AMELIA, ALEXANDER HAMILTON AMERICAN HERO, and more books for children.

Her book SPARKY & SPIKE: CHARLES SCHULZ AND THE WILDEST, SMARTEST DOG EVER, is a Junior Guild Library Selection.

Her newest book released this February,  MY MASTADON, received a starred review from Kirkus.

Her upcoming title, BEHIND THE BOOKCASE: MIEP GIES, ANNE FRANK, AND THE HIDING PLACE is scheduled for release this fall.

Learn more about Barbara by visiting her website: https://www.barbaralowell.com

Her Twitter handle is @barbara_lowell

I hope you’ll join us for a fascinating conversation with Barbara this Tuesday!

***Missed our chat with Barbara? View the recap HERE.


You can read the recaps for all of our chats, from this year and from those in years past, HERE.

Book Review – MY MASTODON by Barbara Lowell

 

I have to admit that I am a little partial to this story as I had a very small part in shaping it from its very beginnings when my wonderful critique partner, Barbara Lowell, first brought this adorable story to the attention of our critique group years ago.

I immediately fell in love with Sybilla, the young girl whose family lives in a natural history museum and whose best friend is a mastodon skeleton. I really wanted to see this story become a book…and now it is finally here!

Barbara at Magic City Books in Tulsa at the Launch of MY MASTODON
Barbara signing my copy of MY MASTODON, a dream come true!

Although it’s been a long road to get Sybilla’s story from beginning concept to reality, and it has seen many, many revisions, it’s even better than I could have imagined. The gorgeous illustrations by Italian illustrator Antonio Marinoni are a perfect fit.

MY MASTODON by Barbara Lowell

Published by: Creative Editions

Release Date: February 25, 2020

Genres: Picture Book, Nonfiction, Biography

indieboundbn-24h-80

 

Plot Summary:

Inspired by the 19th-century lives of artist and scientist Charles Willson Peale’s family, this is a tale of a girl and her favorite companion—a fossilized mastodon!

(Plot summary from author’s website.)

Isn’t that a fascinating place to grow up? In a museum? And that story is based on a real family!

I love Sybilla and how she thinks of herself as an explorer, just like her father. I also love how she helps out around the museum.

 

Sybilla has strong feelings about what should and should not be done with her mastodon. When she hears her friend will be sent away, she campaigns to have him stay.

And even creates flyers advertising her opinion.

 

 

She also has a pretty great older brother, Rembrandt, who doesn’t like seeing her so sad. I don’t want to spoil the ending, so you should read this wonderful book yourself!

But don’t just take my word for it, this book received a starred Kirkus review!

“Accomplished illustrations further elevate this engaging introduction to America’s first family of science.”

Here are what other reviewers had to say:

“It’s a sweet and remarkable story, with Marinoni’s exquisite illustrations inviting the reader directly into the Peale’s museum home, a world of taxidermic animals and towering skeletons” – Booklist Review 

“Nurtured by intelligent eccentric family members and permitted familiarity with priceless scientific curiosities, Sybilla has an ideal Enlightenment-era childhood” – Publishers Weekly

I know you will love this story as much I as do!

Happy reading!

Learn more about Barbara Lowell here.

 

Barbara Lowell – Author Interview & Book Giveaway

The very first person I met through SCBWI was Barbara Lowell. She epitomizes the spirit of our SCBWI Oklahoma group – open and generous and willing to help anyone who asks. I am so grateful that she was the first to make a permanent impression on me. We met at one of the fall conferences, my first ever to attend. How lucky was I that she also soon became one of my very first critique partners, as well? I’m happy to say that she is still my critique partner to this day. We’ve both learned so much from when we started out as newbie writers, making typical mistakes and writing awful stories. Our whole group has grown and we have all come a long way from those stumbling beginnings. Barbara has fantastic suggestions that help me take my stories in much better directions, and even though she swears she could never write something so long herself, I’m not so sure she couldn’t if that’s where her passion led her. Fortunately for us, she loves writing dynamic and intriguing picture book biographies. I adore Barbara’s writing and have felt it a privilege to be a part of so many of her great stories. I’m so happy that the first of these has finally found its way to publication.

GEORGE FERRIS WHAT A WHEEL
Grosset & Dunlap. June 26, 2014.

 

George Ferris Book

 

George Ferris, ever confident, didn’t know that the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair would make him famous, but when engineers were challenged to build something unique and original, he knew he was the person to create it. George had to convince the fair officials, find the money and design and build an amusement wheel that could hold 2,160 people at the same time, something no one had ever done before.

 The Interview

 

Barbara was kind enough to stop by my blog to answer a few questions about her writing process and how she came to be the writer she is today. And she’s also donated not one, but two of her books for a fantastic giveaway! (I told you she was generous.) More details on that later. First, the questions!

Barbara Author PhotoValerie Lawson: What was the inspiration for this story? What made you want to tell it?

Barbara Lowell: My husband was reading Devil in the White City by Erik Larson about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. What amazed him most was that George Ferris had built an amusement wheel with train-sized cars that could hold 2,160 people at the same time.

As soon as he finished the book, I read it. Those two details and George’s confidence that despite overwhelming odds, he could and would build his wheel inspired me to write his story as a nonfiction picture book.

I also loved how Mrs. Ferris absolutely believed in George. She rode in one of the six cars mounted on the wheel for a second trial trip. The glass for the windows hadn’t been installed. When the car she was riding in reached the top of the wheel, 264 feet, she stood on her chair and cheered.

 

VL: I loved those details about the story. What devotion his wife had to test such a contraption. Mrs. Ferris must have been quite a character herself.

I was surprised by the sheer size of this first Ferris Wheel – so big that each car could hold a 40-piece marching band. Would you ever ride in a Ferris Wheel that big?

BL: I might try the new High Roller in Las Vegas. It is twice the height of George Ferris’s wheel, but holds 1,120 passengers verses George Ferris’s 2,160. 

 

VL: A book of this type requires an extensive amount of research. What is your writing process? How do you start a project like this?

BL: I love history, especially American history and researching is fun. There are many interesting stories to find that are not well-known. I try to research the person or story I am writing about as thoroughly as I can. Since I learned about George Ferris’s wheel in Devil in the White City, I first looked at Erik Larson’s sources. His sources that I couldn’t find in the Tulsa library system, I either found at the University of Tulsa or bought online.

One that I consulted over and over is Norman Anderson’s impeccably researched book Ferris Wheels. I researched the sources used for every book I read and dug deeper and deeper. I was able to find at the NOAA website that the lowest recorded temperature in Chicago in January 1893 was -16. I look for as many primary sources as I can – books written by and interviews conducted with the subject of my book, original documents and artifacts. I found an interview with George Ferris from 1893 – that was a great find. When I was unable to locate the answer to a question I had about George Ferris, I contacted the Chicago Historical Society.

 

VL: That is very diligent researching. It must have been amazing to read George Ferris’s own words and then incorporate that into your story.

Who were your childhood heroes and role models? What drew you to them?

BL: From the time I was in third grade, I loved reading biographies, especially about people I could learn from. My favorite autobiography was Helen Keller’s The Story of My Life. I read many books about Eleanor Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt. All three subjects faced enormous challenges with great courage. I still read lots of biographies and nonfiction history.

 

VL: I have such a strong memory of learning about Helen Keller, too. I thought she was amazing. 

When did you know you wanted to be a writer? When did you start pursuing that seriously?

BL: I knew when I was a child that I wanted to be a writer, but I never tried seriously to become one until my daughter started high school. I thought, now I have the time to work on this and it maybe now or never.

I tried on my own, but I was going nowhere until the wonderful Oklahoma writer, Anna Myers started the SCBWI Oklahoma Schmoozes (writers and illustrators meetings.) I attended the meetings and conferences, took online classes and joined a critique group. I began to learn how to write for children and continue every day to learn and improve. This is a tough business and the support of my fellow writers has given me the strength to pursue my writing goals.

 

VL: You are so right! The need for support cannot be emphasized enough. I may have given up long ago if not for my SCBWI family.

Tell me about the most memorable adventures you had with your friends outside of school.

BL: I loved the summer. I lived in a neighborhood with lots of children. We spent our summers dreaming up adventures and then acted them out. A friend’s father helped build sets for a local theater group and one day he brought home a full-size Conestoga wagon. We had a great time traveling out west in our imaginations. One summer we set up our own outdoor laundry and went around the neighborhood asking for things to wash. We played all kinds of outdoor games. There was so much to do that every day seemed to last forever. I loved being a kid and that’s why I like writing for them.

 

VL: Wow! A real Conestoga wagon? You kids must have had a field day with that. I think I would have wanted to camp out in it. Maybe sleep under the stars like a cowboy. I loved being a kid, too. I think you may have something there. 

What are you currently working on?

BL: I finished researching a picture book biography, and I am working on the first draft. I have also recently worked on the first picture book I ever wrote and have rewritten it, not just revised it, for about the sixth time. I think I have finally made it work – but I have thought that before. I also have a new idea for a picture book biography and will start my research by reading the subject’s autobiography. I hope I can find a great story arc there.

 

VL: I can’t wait to take a peek at it. 🙂

What are some of your favorite books for kids?

BL: I think I can agree with almost every fan of YA – The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I also love his book An Abundance of Katherines. I recently read Kathi Appelt’s latest middle grade novel The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp and her book The Underneath is one of my favorites. Karen Cushman, Laurie Halse Anderson and Anna Myers write some of my favorite historical fiction novels.

My favorite book period is To Kill a Mockingbird. I have a huge collection of picture book biographies and historical fiction picture books. My two favorites are Deborah Hopkinson’s Apples to Oregon and Patrick McDonnell’s Me…Jane (Jane Goodall.) I think his is the best picture book biography written. I also like all of Barbara Kerley’s biographies and one of my new favorites is On a Beam of Light (Albert Einstein) by Jennifer Berne.

 

VL: There were some favorites of mine there and some new ones I need to read. Great suggestions.

What has been the best part of being a writer?

BL: Becoming friends with children’s writers. I absolutely love spending time with them and being part of this close community.

Thank you for inviting me to your blog!

Thank you so much for being here, Barbara. And I hope to have you back very soon!

Learn more about Barbara Lowell here.

BUY THE BOOK:

indiebound

 bn-24h-80amazon

 

The Giveaway

 

And now for the fabulous giveaway!

Barbara has generously donated two hardback editions of her new book GEORGE FERRIS WHAT A WHEEL. So there will be TWO WINNERS! This contest is open to everyone. The contest will run through July 18th and you can enter once a day. Good Luck! The winners can now been seen when you click on the giveaway site. Congratulations!

 

ENTER HERE!!!  ➤➤➤ Barbara Lowell Rafflecopter giveaway