Children's Literature Reviews for Teaching History

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Interview with Kristin O'Donnell Tubb

I'm happy to offer an interview with the gracious Kristin O'Donnell Tubb, author of Selling Hope (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan 2010), Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different (Delacorte/Random House 2008) and the forthcoming The 13th Sign (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan 2012).

**Joyce Lansky's recent review of Selling Hope for this site can be found here.**

What inspired you to write Selling Hope?
Selling Hope was one of those happy accidents that came out of researching another project.  I was writing a kid’s activity book about space for Dalmatian Press (called Space: An A+ Workbook), and Halley’s Comet was part of that research.  I discovered that Earth passed through the tail of the comet on May 18 & 19, 1910.  The world’s top scientists promised that no harm would result, but fear ran rampant, and people began prophesying the end of days. Others cashed in on that fear, selling everything from lead umbrellas to gas masks to comet pills.  When I read those words – comet pills – I knew it was a story I wanted to tell.

What sort of research did you do to help you write it?
I researched books, magazines, newspapers, classified ads, advertisements, websites – anything about Chicago and vaudeville and Halley’s Comet circa 1910 that I could find, basically.  I also watched YouTube videos of Buster Keaton to get his movements and facial expressions down pat. (And yes, I consider myself very lucky to have a job in which watching YouTube constitutes “research.” :))  I keep my research in a Word document, but also print out a copy and cut and paste them (literally – with scissors and tape) to 3x5 notecards.  This helps me organize both the story outline and the items by topic.

What was the most difficult part of writing the book?
Making Hope McDaniels a likeable character was probably my biggest challenge. In the story, Hope makes some questionable choices (the girl is a con artist, after all!). It’s a balancing act, creating a character who is pulling off a hoax of that magnitude, but who also gains our sympathy.

What was your favorite part of the writing process?
Research is likely my favorite part of the writing process. We humans do so many heartbreaking, breathtaking things to and for each other. Those stories are out there, and uncovering them is a little akin to Indiana Jones unearthing his treasures! But here, I feel I should always add a caveat: the story is always the character’s journey first, so the history must be tied to that story arc, above all.  If that doesn’t happen, then you’re just tossing in bits of history to show you’ve done your research, which doesn’t make for very interesting reading. 

What were some of your favorite books as a child?
My favorite book as a child was – and still is – A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I also loved Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, especially the first one, Little House in the Big Woods. (Oh, how I longed for an attic full of pumpkins in which to play dolls!) I adored Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself by Judy Blume, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson, John D. Fitzgerald’s Great Brain books, and Donald J. Sobol’s Encyclopedia Brown series. 


Link to this site's recent review of Selling Hope
Link to the website of Kristin O'Donnell Tubb
Link to Amazon's page for Ms. O'Donnell Tubb's earlier book: Autumn Winifred Oliver Things Different 
Link to a Discussion Guide for Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different

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