The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Beth Anderson and Review of Revolutionary Prudence Wright

After earning a B.A. in linguistics and a M. Ed. in reading, Beth Anderson taught English as a second language for more than 20 years. Surrounded by young people from all over the world, with literature as her favorite tool, Beth was fascinated by the power of books to teach, connect, and inspire. In 2013, she began her journey writing for children. Combining her love of writing with the joys of discovery and learning, she found her niche with narrative nonfiction and historical fiction picture books.


When she’s not writing, Beth might be weaving, gardening, exploring nature, or playing with her grandkids. Born and raised in Illinois, she now lives near the mountains in Colorado. Beth believes in laughter, learning, and investing in young minds. And…that truth really is stranger than fiction.


Beth is the author of 9 books (with 3 in production), including Tad Lincoln's Restless Wriggle: Pandemonium and Patience in the President's House (2021), "Smelly" Kelly and His Super Senses: How James Kelly's Nose Saved the New York City Subway (2020), Lizzie Demands a Seat: Elizabeth Jennings Fights for Streetcar Rights (2020), and An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin & Noah Webster’s Spelling Revolution(2018).

[For general information about Beth , see our earlier interviews (here), (here), and (here).]


Her newest picture book, Revolutionary Prudence Wright: Leading the Minute Women in the Fight for Independence, released February 1st.

Welcome back Beth, I'm so excited to talk with you about your newest picture book.


Thanks for having me back, Maria!


First though, did you find anything particularly helpful in keeping you inspired and writing these past couple of years?


I’ve been so very grateful for all the online learning opportunities! They’ve helped pull me out of a slump and kept me inspired and moving forward. And also, the many virtual visits with kids have been a treat. Their reactions and questions keep me thinking about stories in new ways. Though it’s not the same as connecting in person with peers or students, being able to access events no matter where you are on the globe has made more connections possible.


It definitely has some wonderful upsides! As the first ever, biography about Prudence Wright. Where and how did you first learn about her? What did you connect with that made you want to write her biography - Revolutionary Prudence Wright: Leading the Minute Women in the Fight for Independence?

I can’t remember specifically where I first saw Prudence Wright’s name. I think I was browsing Revolutionary War women online. “Minute women” caught my attention and made me look for more information. I loved her spunk and that she didn’t hesitate to step up to protect her family, community, and the men that had gone off to fight at Lexington and Concord. History tends to be military battles, but Prudence’s story let me see what happened on the home front and the consequences of decisions and actions.


I can see why her story - and that of the women she mustered - made an impact on you. You have a wonderful “Author’s Research Note” which explains the difficulties in piecing together an oral history, when there is little documentary evidence. What was the toughest part of your research and/or writing Revolutionary Prudence Wright? How, if at all, did it differ from your other biographies?


I really liked Prudence’s story for so many reasons. But…there were three slightly different versions. I couldn’t prove which version was true. And a key piece of information was missing—information that let us judge the value of her actions. What was in the “despatches” the women confiscated? That’s the crucial piece that might reveal the alternate path of history if she didn’t intervene. So…what to do?


First I tried a version that was about truth, in which “grandmothers” interrupted the story teller with their differing tidbits from the variations. But…that was like people talking during a movie. Not good. Then I played with building the story with two merging lines: one, the factual from documents, and the other, the more personal side from oral history. Another dud. There were a few more attempts as I struggled to find information to push past the roadblocks. As I communicated with some wonderful women in Pepperell, keepers of their history, I finally realized how much Prudence’s story continued to inspire people today. The value of her story wasn’t in the historical details like how many lives her actions saved or which brother was involved. It was in the emotional —in her courage and the power of story through time. Even though I didn’t have answers to how consequential her actions were, how many lives she saved, her story still mattered. When I got that, I’d found the heart. As I reshaped the story, I used the most verifiable details after more research and reaching out to experts.


I’m always looking for the heart of a story. Once in a while it’s easy, but usually it’s hard—the toughest part of writing a story. It requires digging into oneself along with the research, and sometimes you have to struggle to get past assumptions and traditional thinking that blocks your way. I try to find it before I start writing, but sometimes I have to work through it on the page.


Thank you so much for sharing this. It is as fascinating to learn of the drafts that didn't as the one that finally became the book. Did you learn something particular during the researching or writing of Revolutionary Prudence Wright that will help you with future books?


I learn from every manuscript I attempt! With Prudence, I found the courage to experiment and be more creative with structure, but then I also learned that while that can enhance a strong story and make it more unique, it can’t replace the strength of a missing emotional core. I also found something special in connecting with the women who carry her story forward as local historians and in the photos of artifacts they shared from Prudence’s hands. The personal element really connects you!


This is a wonderful nugget to remember! As this is not a genteel period of time, were there things about her life or the Revolutionary War that you did not include in the text or the back matter?


Actually, I had some positive surprises. When Susan Reagan was working on the illustrations, we needed to find out whether there were African American and Native American women in Pepperell at the time who likely participated as “minute women” at the bridge. One local historian dug into records and found several families which included free women of color.


As a child, Prudence was raised in a progressive family that sent her to school and encouraged her to speak her mind. Her father taught her the same skills he taught his sons—hunting, fishing, snowshoeing, and horseback riding.


There was one piece I chose to leave out of the story, but I did mention it in back matter. When Prudence went to visit her mother in late March 1775, it was because she was mourning the death of an infant child. Another child had died years earlier. As adults, we know this was common at the time, but for young readers, it’s a distraction from the story that carries with it questions and an instant mood change.


It's so cool you were able to find records that substantiated who resided in Pepperell at the time. How long did it take for you to find the through line (or heart of the story) for Revolutionary Prudence Wright? Then how long did it take from this spark to publication?


I started the story in February 2017 and experimented with a few different ways to tell it through August. Then for a year, I was stuck. I let it sit until I found the heart in August 2018. I did more revisions. It was subbed in February 2019, and went under contract quickly with Calkins Creek. It’s always interesting to look back, remember the challenges, and gain new insights into the process with the benefit of hindsight. And that’s one of the gifts interviews like this bring as I get ready to share the book with the world.


It probably felt like a long time, when you were in the midst of figuring it all out, but that doesn't seem like an inordinately long period of time. So, I know that titles can be tricky; how many tries did it take to arrive at this title?


Oh, you know titles are my nemesis! This is one that was really hard to pare down and get key words in. I didn’t even try until about revision 12. I had a bunch of words thrown into the title area because for a while my focus was in flux. I had Guarding the Bridge for the main title for a while. Then the basic Prudence Wright and the Minute Women. Once under contract, we tried to make it active, and the editor was the one who moved “Revolutionary” in front of her name which freed up the subtitle options a bit. Always a challenge!


Is there anything you want your readers to know about Revolutionary Prudence Wright?


For anyone who’s familiar with the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere’s ride, and the battles of Lexington and Concord, this story fills in the holes, paints the backdrop, and lets us see what people “like the rest of us” faced in those times. It allows us to see that everyone is a part of history.


That is a great "take-away" and reason for this book to resonate with the readers. Did anything surprise you when you first saw Susan Reagan’s illustrations? Which is your favorite spread?

Text © Beth Anderson, 2022. Image © Susan Reagan, 2022.


I love Susan’s art, and when I saw what she did for Prudence, I was blown away! The colors! The details! The composition! WOW! Susan was really creative in using primary source documents in the art—very cool! I didn’t think about it before reading her illustrator note, but she had to deal with a cast of more than 30 women! My very favorite spread is the one at the climax with the women at the bridge and Prudence holding her lantern. Gorgeous and intense!


That's a big cast for a picture book illustrator. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us? Besides Franz's Phantasmagorical Machine illustrated by Caroline Hamel, releasing May 3, 2022...

Well…one project actually emerged from “the drawer” to find new life after reworking and much revision. I didn’t know that was possible…but YES! There is the possibility of life after being relegated to the drawer! That one should be announced soon.


Jeremy Holmes’ sketches for Thomas Jefferson's Battle for Science: Bias, Truth, and a Mighty Moose, due out in 2023, are AMAZING!!!! I’m so excited as I see this process unfold!


My latest work-in-progress has just been subbed (another spunky female!), so I’m waiting with fingers crossed… hoping that by the time this posts, it has found a home. And now I’m pondering what to dive into next. Tackle one of the “stuck” ones? Or something in the research pile? Or something entirely new? Hmmmmmmm.


We are going to have keep our eyes open for the announcement(s) and that cover reveal. Congrats, by the way. Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

I LOVE Bryce Canyon NP (it’s like another world!) and am longing to see Yosemite! Nature never fails to amaze.


Thank you, Beth for stopping by for this interview. I always enjoy talking with you.


Thank you so much, Maria, for sharing Revolutionary Prudence Wright on your blog and for all your interesting questions!


To find out more about Beth Anderson, or contact her:

Website: https://bethandersonwriter.com/about-me/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/beth.anderson.33671748?fref=ts

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BAndersonWriter

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/bandersonwriter/


For a look at some of the illustration process behind Revolutionary Prudence Wright, check out Beth Anderson's interview - Behind the Scenes: “Designing the Cover” by Susan Reagan.


Review of Revolutionary Prudence Wright:

Leading the Minute Women in the Fight for Independence


This is an engagingly written and beautifully illustrated biography of an unknown revolutionary hero. A strong, independent woman who led a militia of women from Pepperell, Massachusetts in the fight against the British.

Revolutionary Prudence Wright: Leading the Minute Women in the Fight for Independence


Author: Beth Anderson


Illustrator: Susan Reagan


Publisher: Astra Publishing House/Calkins Creek (2022)


Ages: 7-10


Nonfiction


Themes:

Revolutionary War, "minute women," bravery, and independence.


Synopsis:

Here is the first-ever picture book about female Revolutionary War activist Prudence Wright, who rallied the first and only group of "minute women" to fight the British, changing history in the process.


Prudence Wright had a spark of independence.


Annoyed when the British king held back freedoms in colonial Massachusetts, feisty and fearless Prudence had enough. She said no! to British goods, determined to rely on her resourcefulness and ingenuity to get by. And when British troops continued to threaten the lives of her family and community, she assembled and led the "minute women" of Pepperell to break free of tradition.


This untold story of a courageous and brave woman from the Revolutionary War continues to inspire today.


Opening Lines:

Prudence Cummings painted, snipped,

and folded her precious piece of paper,

crafting a “love box” like any colonial girl.


But when she bested boys at school,

hunted and fished with her father,

and debated her brothers on the

rule of the British King, it was

clear . . . Prudence had a spark of

independence


What I LOVED about this book:

I love the way Prudence Cumming's strong, independent streak is brilliantly and immediately portrayed both in the opening text and in her fiery red dress and facial expressions. As a child, she learned the skills taught most girls (to maintain a household), but her smart, outdoorsy, and strong-willed nature was also encouraged and supported.

Text © Beth Anderson, 2022. Image © Susan Reagan, 2022.


When her town, Pepperell, Massachusts, joined in Boston's resistance, Prudence encouraged the townswomen in their own show of rebellion - burning their tea in the town center and not buying British goods. Until this revolt, Prudence's colorful red dress stands out from the other townswomen's somber black and green dresses. Though she dons somber, black homespun dresses, she still has a reddish cape and a fiery expression!


I admire the way Beth Anderson and Susan Reagan reduce and conceptualize the beginning of the American Revolution in a way that is both engaging and accessible for kids. And in a nice touch for older kids and teachers, Susan's created a backdrop of the King's proclamation and The Bill of Rights.

Text © Beth Anderson, 2022. Image © Susan Reagan, 2022.


Circling back to the beginning, where Prudence and her brother's debated British Rule, and foreshadowing the book's conflict, the text notes "If it came to war, the conflict between patriots and Tories would rip Prudence's family apart." By combining subdued digital drawings, in darker colors, with watercolor highlights, the illustrations beautifully create a period feeling and amplify the dramatic, heart-pounding, dangerous moments.


Just before the British troops advanced, Prudence overhears her brother and Leonard Whiting, a former schoolmate, scheming. After Pepperell's minutemen left to join the battle, rumors of Tory spies and concerns that an undefended Pepperell bridge could enable the British to trap the minutemen. So, Prudence mobilized the women. Dressed in men's clothing and grabbing whatever was to hand, the "first-ever unit of minute women" rose to the task. Electing Prudence (once again red) as their leader, they dramatically ambushed the Tory spies and defended the bridge.

Text © Beth Anderson, 2022. Image © Susan Reagan, 2022.


Craft note: In addition to Prudence's fiery independence and the use of red to make her stand apart, another thread (pun intended) running through the book is represented by the quilt. We first see the women sewing quilts when Prudence gets the idea, that since small pieces help the whole, the women should take their own stand against King George. And then again as they mobilize, where despite a lack of training, the women "bound together, like blocks on a quilt," helped not only a political rebellion, but a rebellion against society's norms - as "Revolutionary women." I love the solidarity in the final image.


A wonderfully detailed afterword delves into Prudence's upbringing, what happened to her Tory brothers, and the fact that the town of Pepperell recognized the contribution of the minute women by issuing a payment to "Leonard Whiting's Guard." The author's and illustrator's notes, along with detailed bibliography, provide a great start for additional research. Overall, this is an important, wonderfully dramatic, and inspiring biography of a strong, independent woman and her minute women of the American Revolution.


Resources:

- try making some of the paper activities Beth and Susan collected, like Prudence's paper purse, a lantern, candle, and a tricorn hat, (https://bethandersonwriter.files.wordpress.com/2022/01/precious-paper-activity-packet.pdf)

- Prudence's story was kept alive by passing it and her lantern through generations. What stories do your parents or grandparents know about your family?

- can you think of ways that you can take small steps with friends, family, classmates, and/or neighbors and lead the effort to make a change in your school or community?

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Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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