Where did you first come across the story behind Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek ?
My editor, Anne Schwartz, had asked me to think about writing a book in honor of the Lincoln Bicentennial. I wanted to find a relatively untold story about Lincoln’s life, and to find a way to tell it that would get young readers excited about history.
When I came across this incident of Abe being rescued from Knob Creek by a childhood friend when he was seven, it seemed like the perfect match. I found the incident mentioned in several places, including the Lincoln birthplace site. There is also a historical marker honoring Austin Gollaher.
Do you think having an unknown historical hero like Austin Gollaher will help children feel closer to history?
I do think that children, like adults, are drawn to stories about people to whom they can relate. History is only before if it is reduced to memorizing the dates of battles and the names of presidents. Luckily, there are many more historical fiction and nonfiction books for young readers than there were when I was growing up.
In ABE LINCOLN CROSSES A CREEK I explore a specific incident in Lincoln’s childhood in which he was saved from drowning by his friend, Austin Gollaher. I wanted not just to introduce an unknown hero, but also to encourage children to ask questions about the role of ordinary people in history. I also hope the story reminds readers that our individual lives and choices matter, whether we’re famous or not.
Can you tell me a little about the research that went into the book?
While I wasn’t able to travel to Kentucky, I did try to read all the early biographies of Lincoln, as well as a “told to” autobiography by Austin Gollaher, who was apparently interviewed in his later years by a newspaper reporter. Of course, the book is historical fiction, so I fabricated all the dialogue.
Which is more fun: the research or the writing?
That’s easy: I love research! In fact, I sometimes have a hard time stopping the research to begin the writing process.
While I was reading Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek, it felt like you and illustrator John Hendrix were in the same room, creating the finished book together. I'm guessing that isn't true, but was there any contact during the illustration process? Or have you met John after the book was completed?
You’re right. There was no contact during the illustration process and, in fact, the text in the book is exactly what John Hendrix received when he first was given the manuscript to illustrate. However, coincidentally I have been invited to speak in St. Louis this spring so we will have the chance to meet and autograph books together.
I loved the fact that the story felt whole and still prompted my imagination to wonder how Abe and Austin did on their journey back home that day. Have you ever daydreamed about it? I'm also curious if you've heard of any teachers challenging their students to speculate what might have happened?
The book is fairly new, so I haven’t met any teachers who have used it in their classrooms as yet.
Actually, I don’t think so much of Austin and Abe heading home that day. To me the bittersweet, lingering part of this story is the incident years later during the Civil War, when Lincoln remembers his childhood friend, apparently with great affection.
One can imagine him taking a moment to look back at some of his pranks – and perhaps that near drowning in the creek that day – and reflect just how far he had come from that simple frontier boyhood, wandering by Knob Creek with his good friend, Austin.
Thank you, Deborah, for taking the time to answer my questions and thanks to Michele at Provato Marketing for arranging the blog tour. Click here to see other tour stops.