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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Vivian Kirkfield and Review of Pedal, Balance, Steer

Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. She can be found writing picture books in the picturesque village of Bedford, NH.

Photo of Vivian Kirkfield standing astride a bicycle.

A retired kindergarten teacher, With a Masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at conferences and on her blog, Picture Books Help Kids Soar where she hosts the #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest and the #50PreciousWordsforKids Challenge.


Collage of the 5 covers of Vivian's books.

She is the author of seven picture books, including From Here To There: Inventions That Changed The Way The World Moves, illustrated by Gilbert Ford (2021), Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship Of Ella Fitzgerald And Marilyn Monroe, illustrated by Alleanna Harris (2020), Sweet Dreams, Sarah, illustrated by Chris Ewald (2019), Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book, illustrated by Mirka Hokkanen (2019), and Pippa's Passover Plate illustrated Jill Weber (2019).


For additional information on Vivian, see our earlier interviews (here), (here), and (here).


Her newest book, Pedal, Balance, Steer: Annie Londonderry, the First Woman to Cycle Around the World, releases February 20th.


Welcome Vivian, thank you so much for stopping back by to talk about Pedal, Balance, Steer: Annie Londonderry, the First Woman to Cycle Around the World and your writing. 

 

Hello Maria! Thank you so much for inviting me to your fabulous blog! It’s so much fun to chat with you – and it brings back wonderful memories of our time in Sydney at the Australia SCBWI conference in 2019…and the week in Italy at the Bologna Book Fair – we were like Annie, but without a bike.

Photo of Vivian Kirkfield and Myself on a bridge overlooking a river in Milan, Italy.

That was such a fun time! So, when (where) did you first learn about Annie Londonderry?

Photo of a book's Appendix note about Annie Londonderry and bikes.

The idea for the story about Annie Londonderry sprang from the manuscript I wrote for one of the chapters in From Here to There – the chapter about Karl Drais and the invention of the first bicycle. The editor asked me to write a stand-alone picture book about how bikes helped women attain more independence. And in my research for that new book, I came across Annie’s amazing adventure.


Photocopy of a Dnever newspaper article of Annie Londonderry's last portion of her challenge.

It's so cool how one thing can lead to another and another and then right down the rabbit hole you go! And what inspired you to write her biography - Pedal, Balance, Steer: Annie Londonderry, the First Woman to Cycle Around the World?


Book cover - Woman on a bike, on top of a globe, perched perched over Europe.

After my preliminary research, I knew there was a story here…a story of a woman who shucked her long skirts and pedaled around the world in a time when most women didn’t even travel to the next town by themselves. A woman who wasn’t afraid to thumb her nose at convention as she pursued her dream. A woman who wanted to show the world that a woman could do anything a man could do. It’s important for us to provide young people with examples of folks who showed that nothing is impossible if you can imagine it.

   

Her story seems like a perfect one for you to write, fitting right into your own mantra. What is one of the most fun or unusual places where you’ve written a manuscript?

 

Most of the time, I write on my computer at my desk at home in Bedford, NH. But I guess the most unusual place was while flying around the world – in fact, I was working on Pedal, Balance, Steer!  On March 18, 2019, I had recently arrived in Switzerland and I emailed my agent: I FINISHED the Annie Londonderry story and am waiting on one more critique...while I'm at Julie's, I'll polish and send it out to you so you can let me know if you think it is ready for Ann Rider.


I did send it to my agent and when Ann Rider at HMH passed on it, my agent sent it to Carolyn Yoder at Calkins Creek/Astra.


Then, on April 1, 2019, right before I boarded a train to Bologna, Italy, I emailed a revised version of the manuscript to my agent. Editor Carolyn had seen an early iteration and had asked for an R&R. This is how the R&R started:


Annie had never thought about riding a bike. The truth is, she didn’t even know how. But

when she heard that someone was going to pay $10,000 to the first woman who pedaled around the world, Annie knew she had to try.


Internal spread - on upper left, a woman cleaning and caring for childrem. Lower left, two men shaking hands, creating the bike competiton rules. On Right, a Woman looking at a flier of a woman biking across the world.

Text © Vivian Kirkfield, 2024. Image © Alison Jay, 2024.


Annie wasn’t afraid of hard work.

She bustled from room to room, cooking,

cleaning, and caring for her kids.

She hustled from business to business, selling

advertising space for local newspapers.

Times were tough. When Annie heard

that two rich businessmen were

going to pay ten thousand

dollars to the first woman

who pedaled around the world,

she knew she had to try.


Very different from the final version that was acquired.

   

It is really fun that your writing of the R&R was done as you travelled from Switzerland to Italy. What was the toughest or trickiest aspect of writing Pedal, Balance, Steer? And less frequently asked, what was the most fun aspect?

 

The trickiest aspect? Deciding how to ‘explain’ Annie’s tall tales. Although she did travel around the world and cycled about 10,000 miles, Annie took every advantage she could to travel by train and boat. She delighted in adding outlandish details as she relayed her experiences to journalists and reporters around the world – and they delighted in printing those details. I’m sure she wasn’t rescued from a Chinese jail by 40 French soldiers…and I don’t think she rode an elephant on a tiger hunt…however, it made great copy for local newspapers around the world.


It was also tricky to explain how she left her three young children for over a year. Although it’s true they were well cared for by family, it’s also true that she received a lot of push back both before and after the trip.

 

The most fun aspect was that I had a fabulous resource, Peter Zheutlin’s book, Around the World on Two Wheels. Peter is Annie’s great grand-nephew…and his research (back in the day before everything was digitalized) was SO helpful to me. Plus, I had Annie’s own column detailing her journey in the New York World newspaper.

 

Trying to piece out "tall" tales in historical documents and even primary sources can be really fun. What's something you want your readers to know about Pedal, Balance, Steer and/or Annie Londonderry?

 

One of my mantras is: Nothing is impossible if you can imagine it. And we should never underestimate what we are capable of accomplishing. Annie is a perfect example of this. How inspiring that a young woman who had NEVER RIDDEN A BICYCLE BEFORE goes cycling around the world. She had pluck. She had grit. She had courage. And she never gave up! That’s such an important message for all of us!

  

That is a great message and something to aspire to. When you first saw Alison Jay’s illustrations in Pedal, Balance, Steer, did anything surprise, amaze, or delight you? Which is your favorite spread?


I’d seen Alison Jay’s portfolio and had used a book she illustrated, A Lady has the Floor, as a mentor text when writing Pedal. I knew Alison had a wonderful way of showing a range of emotion in her characters and so I was thrilled when I found out she was going to be the illustrator.

Rough pencil sketch of a woman riding a bike across the top if a globe.

Image © Alison Jay, 2024.


There were three or four cover sketches – all of them were fabulous…but we all loved the wrap-around globe the most! And she brought the story to life – with a color palette that delights me, and hopefully, the kids!

Internal spread - upper left inset, a young girl trying to learn English.  A class on bike riding with five adults on bikes and others staring from houses.

Text © Vivian Kirkfield, 2024. Image © Alison Jay, 2024.


My favorite spread? Hmmm…that’s hard. There are so many. The wrap-around cover, for sure. And I love all the map spreads, with Annie traversing the country and the continents. I think it’s a great book to use across all curriculum subjects: history, geography, language arts, and even math and science.

 

I really love the crackling appearance of Alison's illustrations. Was there anything you learned during your research that you couldn’t include in the main text or back matter?

 

Whenever you write a nonfiction pb manuscript, there will always be lots of info you can’t include…otherwise, you’d have 10,000 words. 😊 I didn’t include the fact that she probably spent several weekends with traveling companions…this is a pb, not a YA. 😊 And I didn’t go into details about how she told some journalists and reporters that she had a Harvard medical degree and she told others that she spoke several languages but was only allowed to speak English according to the wager rules. Annie was a master at knowing what to say and who to say it to so she could smooth the way for her journey as well as encourage journalists to write about her. The more press she got, the more people would flock to her lectures and that’s how she earned the money she needed to complete the trip.

 

She definitely was an interesting character. Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

 

New projects? Definitely! I have another nonfiction pb bio about another strong woman, Lucy Stone, who was a contemporary of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: One Girl’s Voice: How Lucy Stone Helped Change the Laws of the Land, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon (Calkins Creek/Astra, Spring 2025). Plus a sequel to Pippa’s Passover Plate coming in Fall 2025 (but still unannounced). AND a board book with yet another publisher (also unannounced), probably in 2026.

 

And of course, the #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest which happens March 2 and March 3…and which you, Maria, are an integral part of – I don’t know how I’d manage it without you! It’s grown so over the last few years – and now, with the Literacy Initiative, it benefits schools and students and bookstores as well as our kid-lit community.

Logo for #50 Precious Words competition. A small child holding a humongous top hat with . #50 Precious Words written across it.

It's a lot of fun working with you, I am still amazed at times how big it has grown. Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

 

Oh, you ask the best questions!

A trip to Alaska is definitely on my bucket list. Alaska is the only state I’ve never been to…their many National Parks are legendary!

Photo of Vivian Kirkfield and Myself by a "dreams jar" mural in Sydney.

And wouldn’t I love to return to Australia where we enjoyed the beautiful parks, zoo, and beaches.


I agree, that was a fun trip I'd love to repeat! Thank you, Vivian, for stopping by to share about yourself and your newest picture book.


To find out more about Vivian Kirkfield, or contact her:


Review of Pedal, Balance, Steer:

Annie Londonderry, the First Woman to Cycle Around the World


Vivian Kirkfield and Alison Jay have created a wonderful biography of a woman who, modeling Vivian's own personal mantra - 'Nothing is impossible if you can imagine it," proved that women have the creativity, power, stamina, ingenuity, determination, and guts required to "ride bikes just as well as men."


Book cover - Woman on a bike, on top of a globe, perched perched over Europe.

Pedal, Balance, Steer: Annie Londonderry, the First Woman to Cycle Around the World

Author: Vivian Kirkfield

Illustrator: Alison Jay

Publisher: Calkins Creek/Astra Publishing (2024)

Ages: 7-10

Nonfiction


Themes:

Following one's dreams, bicycling, biography, world travel, equality, and women's abilities.


Synopsis:

Annie Londonderry proves women can do anything they set their minds to—even cycle around the world—in this nonfiction picture book for cycling enthusiasts, budding travelers, and anyone who dreams of reaching a difficult goal.


In the 1890s, times were tough, and opportunities for women were few and far between. When mother-of-three Annie Londonderry saw an ad promising $10,000 to a woman who could cycle around the world in a year, something no one thought possible, she decided it was time to learn to ride. She waved goodbye to her family in Boston and set off for Chicago.


Annie was exhausted when she arrived fifty-nine days later—and she realized she’d never make it across the Rockies before winter, and certainly not riding a heavy women’s bike and wearing a corset and petticoats. So Annie got herself a better bicycle and comfortable bloomers, and headed back East to try a different route. Facing robbers, sprained ankles, and disapproving stares, Annie missed her family and wanted to quit. But she journeyed on, all over the world. And, when she finally reached California and the Southwest, she kept pedaling. Her family was counting on the prize money, and people around the world, especially women, were watching.


Annie came through for all of them, arriving in Chicago fourteen days before her deadline and proving that women could do just about anything.


Opening Lines:

Annie wasn’t afraid of hard work. She bustled from room to room, cooking, cleaning, and caring for her kids. She hustled from business to business, selling advertising space for local newspapers. Times were tough. When Annie heard that two rich businessmen were going to pay ten thousand dollars to the first woman who pedaled around the world, she knew she had to try. But how on earth was a mother of three, who had never even sat on a bicycle, going to pedal around the world?


What I LOVED about this book:

I really admire Annie Londonderry's spunk and guts; especially doing a solo bike trip in 1894! Amazingly, having never ridden a bike, she took two lessons and set off around the world. Vivian and Alison beautifully captured the period with the textural descriptions and quotations, and the gorgeous muted sepia tones and crackled effect in the illustrations.

Internal spread - upper left inset, a young girl trying to learn English.  A class on bike riding with five adults on bikes and others staring from houses.

Text © Vivian Kirkfield, 2024. Image © Alison Jay, 2024.


Vivian created the perfect refrain - which just happens to also be the title - "Pedal. Balance. Steer." and Alison uses it to great effect in a number of illustrations.

Internal spread - on left, 1894 Mass. State House with crowd of people out front and a woman on a bike. On right, Annie Londonderry on a bike zooming down a city street.

Text © Vivian Kirkfield, 2024. Image © Alison Jay, 2024.


With a fast-paced, lyrical text the book follows Annie Londonderry's adventure as she sets off to prove that women could do anything a man could do. Bike around the world? You betcha! She just had to 'Speak only English. Accept no donations. Earn $5,000 while traveling . . . [and] return in 15 months or less." Simple enough, unless you are a young mother of three who had never ridden a bicycle. After a 'false' start heading west in a skirt with a heavy women's bike, where she "rattled over rocky trails." and "her bottom begged to be anywhere but on a hard bike seat," Annie trades her skirt for trousers, her bike for a men's racing bike, and heads east to New York and a steamer bound for France.


Winning hearts and overcoming adversity, Annie funds her journey and ultimately earns the required $5,000 by giving speeches and increasingly adventurous interviews, selling autographed photos, and attaching advertising to her bike. Annie survives bike confiscation, robbery, and serious accidents. Nothing seems to phase her. She preserved and kept pushing the limits of her body and her will.

Internal spread - runaway horse careening around a corner knocking woman off a bike, into a barbed wire fence and a steep slope. Inset image of woman giving a speach with a black eye, cuts & bruises.

Text © Vivian Kirkfield, 2024. Image © Alison Jay, 2024.


As with most biographies, this has a happy conclusion. But, to discover the wonderful exploration of Annie's dark moments of doubts, the source of her strength and determination, and the actual result of her journey, you will have to read this gorgeously illustrated and masterfully written picture book for yourself.


The author's note explores more about this groundbreaking, ceiling shattering woman who'd proven that if they put their minds to it, women can do anything men can do. In addition, there is information on early bicycles and the societal changes that intertwine with bike history and Annie's adventurous feat. This is a wonderful biography of a little known figure, perfect for history, women's rights, and bicycle enthusiasts.


Resources:

Graphic showing the arm positions for bike turning signals.

  • make a map of your city, neighborhood, or nearby park. Then challenge yourself to see how quickly you can ride on your own journey. Or make an obstacle course with items around your house or with chalk.

Photo - on left, a pink and a blue paper bicycle. On right a cardboard bicycle.

Comments


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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