By Leslie Lindsay
Darling picture book for young readers–and their caregivers–about the feisty and enterprising first lady, Abigail Adams.
~Books on Monday~
I loved LEAVE IT TO ABIGAIL: The Revolutionary Life of Abigail Adams (Feb 4, 2020 Little, Brown)! In this inspiring tribute, award-winning author Barb Rosenstock and NYT bestselling illustrator, Elizabeth Baddeley bring to life the amazing and colorful Abigail Adams, one of America’s greatest founding mothers.
Everyone knew Abigail was different–in fact, they didn’t expect she’d live after childbirth–but she did. She blurted out questions and she ignored her mother’s chores, she bossed her siblings around, and fell into her father’s books (and taught herself to read)…she eventually tamed herself and became proficient at the many tasks it takes to run a farm, plus baking and sewing, carding, and more. When she was 14 she was ‘promised’ to marry a minister from town, but fell in love with John Adams. He thought she was too headstrong and obnoxious at the time, but five years later, when she was 19 and he 24, they married.
I was completely in awe with LEAVE IT TO ABIGAIL–and learned so much! The illustrations are an absolute delight –and I marveled at the actual cross stitch used throughout the book. This is a perfect read for anyone who loves American history, but especially in teaching our young daughters that they can be and do just about anything they set their minds to. It’s about taking chances, speaking one’s mind, rolling up one’s sleeves, and getting the job done. I found it very inspiring.
The end of the book provides notes from both the author and illustrator about their processes, as well as a wonderful homage to influential women throughout history.
LEAVE IT TO ABIGAIL is a title no children’s library should be without. Truly a class-act.
Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Barb Rosenstock and Elizabeth Baddeley to the author interview series.
Barb and Elizabeth, welcome! I LOVED this book. It’s impeccably researched and the illustrations are so, so engaging. But first, I just have to say—I’m from Missouri and now live in Illinois—small world! Growing up, I loved to read, write, and illustrate my own books. But I didn’t know any authors; it felt unattainable. Like Abigail, it didn’t stop me. And I think that’s what the theme of LEAVE IT TO ABIGAIL is all about—doing what you want because it’s a passion. Can you talk about that, please?
The way Abigail Adams life played out proves almost nothing is unattainable. But, she did not just do what she “wanted.” The thing I found most fascinating and relatable about Abigail is how she, like many modern women, juggled the passions and obligations in her life. Motherhood, gardening, her money-making work, husband’s business obligations, writing, and relationships. As someone who came to writing later in life, it was comforting to hear Abigail in the 1770s communicate similar thoughts to every female creative person (or every adult female) I know—How is this all going to get done? Am I being selfish? I’m so worried about my children. I love my husband but he’s driving me nuts. What do people think of me? She was smart, funny, driven, a bit of a know-it-all, much loved, and a leader in her family, her community, and finally her country. She didn’t know her life was on that trajectory. She kept true to her passions and herself, and she is a hero.
I think that passion is something you have no other choice but to do. I can think of a lot of jobs that would be easier than illustrating books—but here we are! Our passions aren’t always practical but require nurturing alongside the day-to-day of regular life. I think this describes Abigail’s life to a tee. She wrote those letters and voiced her opinions to her husband all the while running a family farm, raising children and supporting her family financially. Certainly it would have been easier to simply focus on family life, but that’s not who she was. She had a passion to learn and to be heard.
Barb, I’m curious if you could give us a little insight into your research into the narrative of LEAVE IT TO ABIGAIL. So many have this misconception that writing for children is ‘easier,’ but it’s not! What can you tell us?
I don’t know if it’s “easier” or “harder,” it’s just what I love to do! I read a few books about Abigail (and speaking of adult books, I don’t think the definitive, lively adult bio of AA has been written yet) but LEAVE IT TO ABIGAIL was rooted in the primary source of Abigail’s own letters. Yet still, the book didn’t come together until I actually visited the Adams Historical Park in Massachusetts and was guided through the homes by Caroline Keinath, who was then Superintendent of the site. Allowed to take my time to see Abigail’s life artifacts, the space she lived this extraordinary life, provided me with the sensory experiences I needed as opposed to more reading. It was in the attic space, hearing how she boarded Revolutionary soldiers, and knowing that John Adams had left her alone to run their entire lives while he ran a revolution, that I first thought “gee, leave it to Abigail, to do all this and then take in soldiers!” After the attic, I started saying “Yep, leave it to Abigail!” every time Caroline told me something else amazing about this woman. The next thing I knew, I had a text structure and the book’s title.
In terms of illustrations, I am sure you had to delve into history to make sure your representation of Abigail’s life was accurate. What was your process like, Elizabeth? Did you receive the narrative after the fact and then put images to the text? Did you and Barb collaborate along the way?
With this book, and all the other books I’ve illustrated, I received the manuscript before creating any illustrations. However, it is always the job of the illustrator to elaborate on that manuscript and bring your own elements to the story. A lot of times, those elements are things that cannot be written. The expression on Abigail’s face when she meets Ben Franklin, the textiles that make up her wardrobe, or the tools surrounding the household hearth are all examples. These details would muddy up the story Barb was trying to shape, but are great elements to include within the illustrations.
I go about finding research in many ways. The library is always my first stop. The internet is great, but unreliable. If it’s written or pictured in a book, I can be sure it’s accurate information. Each book I work on requires its own method of research. For this book, I found that photos of people doing historical reenactments were very useful. I think I probably looked at 500 pictures from Colonial Williamsburg! I have to piece many photos, drawings and ideas together to form the world I am illustrating, but those were a great start.
What messages would you give girls who aspire to be authors—and illustrators—or both?!
If you like to think and talk and tell stories, then write. And writing is like anything else worthwhile, (sports, dance, music, experimenting, building) it take a lot of practice. In fact, it is 99% practice and 1% “I’m done.” When you fall in love with the practice, you fall in love with the way your brain works and that very powerful. Try it! Do it! Write!
Stories are everywhere! You don’t have to live an unusual or adventurous life to tell great stories. A trip to the grocery store or an afternoon spent outdoors can stir up all sorts of interesting ideas. You only have to open your eyes. This means putting down your phone, tablet, computer or whatever else is distracting you. Write down or draw what you see without worrying about where it will lead. This is not solely advice for young girls, by the way. We could all benefit from opening our eyes to the world around us.
What did you learn about yourself as you wrote and illustrated LEAVE IT TO ABIGAIL? What challenges did you overcome?
Not to pat myself on the back too much, for it did take a lot of time, but I learned I am becoming very, very good at knowing what will work in an historical picture book and what doesn’t belong. I’m still learning to trust the process. The challenge in writing about Abigail Adams is that she led a rich, complex, long life ranging over many different subjects, yet, she was essentially a housewife, not typically considered the “primary actor.” I like to say that every picture book has to answer the question, So What? I never know one of my books is going to work until that “So What?” question is answered. The “So What” in LEAVE IT TO ABIGAIL is her essential dependability, and how people depend on each other and how not much gets done (even in a revolution) without the heroes behind the scenes.
LEAVE IT TO ABIGAIL came at a very interesting time in my life. I was pregnant with my son during the process of illustrating this book (the images of Abigail with her children are very special to me). I made the illustrations as my pregnancy progressed, I looked at proofs with infant in a sling wrapped around me and I opened the box of finished LEAVE IT TO ABIGAIL books while a energetic toddler ran around the house. I really felt the spirit of Abigail in me as my life changed drastically to accommodate my new baby. Balancing work and family life was (and is) certainly a challenge during this time. I’m still not sure that I’ve overcome it, though!
I think the biggest message in LEAVE IT TO ABIGAIL is the concept of strong, driven, and influential women. Who or what inspired you? And do you have plans to write/illustrate more books along this theme?
Starting with my mother, I have so many strong women in my life. Women who were told what to do or what not to do, and still figured out what they wanted and went against all the rules to get it when necessary. And yet, until some female elementary students pointed out, “almost all your books are about boys” I hadn’t realized how skewed my own thinking was toward white, male history. LEAVE IT TO ABIGAIL hopefully begins to address that and I have another book coming out (same month, same year!) called FIGHT OF THE CENTURY which is about another important woman leader, Alice Paul, who battled President Woodrow Wilson and the male establishment to win the right to vote. 2020 is the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, so hey ladies, let’s vote!
Yes! I am currently working on two books about fantastically inspiring and driving women. One about dare-devil stunt-woman, Kitty O’Neil, who overcame many odds and the other is about the female telephone operators in WWI. I could illustrate books along this theme until the day I day. But I hope to, someday soon, write and illustrate books about women I have known in my life. Perhaps less famous, but just as strong and driven.
I could probably ask questions all day, alas we all have other things to get to. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?
Instead how about I ask you (and the teachers, librarians, etc. who may be reading)… Which other strong women do YOU wish we knew more about?
Oooh! An important question. I think I’d be interested in learning more about women doing things that weren’t typical of women at the time–and for selfish reasons, I’d suggest women in medicine like Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to receive a medical degree in the U.S. And what about women in architecture? Sophia Hayden Bennett was born in Chile, but received her architectural degree from MIT in 1890 and her work was featured at the Chicago World’s Fair. Even writing was once a very male-only profession not so long ago and so featuring women writers throughout history would really appeal to me.
I had a lot of fun creating the cross stitch elements in the book. These were very much inspired by my mom, and avid cross-stitcher, quilter and general creative person. Cross stitch was not only a very popular craft in Abigail’s time, but I loved the juxtaposition of this very delicate, ornamental needlework with the grueling life a colonial woman must have led. Their lives were so much about doing what needed to be done to survive, but somehow were also infused with beauty. Something I strive for every day!
Artistic cover of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Follow @leslielindsay1 on Instagram for more like this
FOr more information, to connect with Barb Rosenstock (author) or Elizabeth Baddeley (illustrator), please see:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR & ILLUSTRATOR: Barb Rosenstock likes true stories about real people. She is the author of nonfiction and historical fiction children’s books that combine deep research and playful language to bring history to life. Her book, The Noisy Paint Box, illustrated by Mary Grandpré, received a Caldecott Honor in 2015. Other awards include an Orbis Pictus Honor, a Sydney Taylor Honor and the California Library Association Beatty Award as well as numerous national and state recognitions. Barb loves sharing stories and inspiring students in schools and libraries across the country. She lives with her family near Chicago.
Elizabeth Baddeley is the New York Times Best selling illustrator of I DISSENT: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes her Mark (Simon & Schuster). She has illustrated many other biographies and non-fiction books for children including: The Cat Who Lived with Anne Frank (Philomel), An Inconvenient Alphabet (Simon & Schuster), The Good Fight (Knopf), A Woman in the House (and Senate) (Abrams) and more! Elizabeth has also self-published the leading /only Kansas City themed coloring book for adults and children: Color Me Kansas City as well as the very personal Swimmer Girls which earned her a gold medal from the Society of Illustrators in 2011.
Prior to receiving her MFA from the School of Visual Arts (illustration as visual essay), Elizabeth had worked for Hallmark Cards and Barkley advertising in Kansas City. Her other interests include knitting ill-fitting garments for her son, wrangling cats and Boston Terriers, swimming and cooking. She resides in a historic neighborhood in Kansas City with her husband and young son.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:
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- Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
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SECOND EDITION OF SPEAKING OF APRAXIA COMING SPRING 2020 FROM WOODBINE HOUSE!
Leslie Lindsay is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012). Her work has been published in Pithead Chapel, Common Ground Review, Cleaver Magazine (craft and CNF), The Awakenings Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Ruminate’s The Waking, Brave Voices Literary Magazine, Manifest-Station, and others. She has been awarded as one of the top 1% reviewers on GoodReads and recognized by Jane Friedman as one of the most influential book reviewers. Since 2013, Leslie has interviewed over 700 bestselling and debut authors on her author interview series. Follow her bookstagram posts @leslielindsay1.
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[Cover and author images courtesy of Little, Brown and Company Young Readers and used with permission. Author photo cred Rosenstock: Mary Clare Glabowitz. Artistic cover of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Follow @leslielindsay1 on Instagram for more like this]