We are guests on Elizabeth Dulemba’s blogspot today talking about the making, writing, and inspiration of NOTHING FANCY ABOUT KATHRYN & CHARLIE. We are planning more library visits soon – this time in New York, California, and Tennessee. We are branching out!
Dothan was our last stop on the June 2013 Library barnstorming tour across Alabama. We left Monroeville at the crack of dawn and drove the back-roads to Dothan passing over a bridge outside of Evergreen called “Murder Creek” and onto the Wal-Mart in Andalusia for a camera charger for the workshop. The wonderful head librarian at Dothan, Bettye Forbus, was on her way to ALA in Chicago, but she had arranged the workshop for older kids, which really made for some evocative storytelling.
One boy made a tree for his father in Kuwait, and he’s going to Skype with his father and share it with him.
One girl said, “You know those trees that you plant when the baby is born? And it grows up with them? That’s like my tree.” She crafted a trunk of puzzle pieces and said it represented friends, hope, knowledge and love – all the pieces of life.
Another girl shaped a tree above water with a zipline, and she said, “You know how water is always moving, and it’s how life is always moving too.”
It was a lovely way to end the tour sharing stories with kids of Dothan. Then we backtracked to the little town of Enterprise, Alabama to see the statue of the Boll Weevil in the town square just for Olive. Afterwards, we made our way back to Birmingham, the stories of the road in heads and hearts, a little sad that it had to end so fast. But we’re already thinking about the next one and very grateful to have met so many wonderful young artists, storytellers, librarians, teachers, grandmothers, moms, dads, and other new friends along the road.
Thank you, Kathryn Tucker Windham and Charlie Lucas for showing the world what friendship could be and for being great Alabama explorers and adventurers.
I’m beginning this blog with a letter from the rock star librarian of Monroeville, Alabama, Jacqueline “Bunny” Hines, who wrote us this letter yesterday:
I’m catching up on the blog this morning because we’ve been so busy crisscrossing Alabama we just fell asleep at night, too sleepy to post.
Anyway, we loved our visit to Fairhope, Alabama on Monday afternoon. This little coastal town in Alabama is a special place to me, especially PAGE & PALETTE, an indie bookstore where we go way back to 2005, our very first visit to Fairhope.
Back in 2005, when Lucy was in 8th grade and my first children’s novel, GENTLE’S HOLLER, was published, she and I traveled to Alabama together where she made a documentary of a mother/daughter book tour for an 8th grade project. And our very first visit/writing workshop together was to PAGE & PALETTE. I don’t even remember how I found the store, but I asked the owner, Karin Wilson, if she wanted a writing workshop for kids, she said yes! Then I looked at the map and discovered that Fairhope is right down on the Gulf just across the bay from Mobile, and we were flying into Birmingham. Anyway, we never dreamed that eight years later, we’d be coming back with a book we’d collaborated on together. Lucy even had her first oyster in Fairhope. (She had two and at age 14 that was enough.)
In 2005, we never even dreamed we’d ever be living in Alabama. The Harper Lee book wasn’t even on the radar, and I’d not yet heard of Kathryn Tucker Windham or Charlie Lucas. But sometimes things connect and connect some more, and Gentle’s Holler led me to write my Smoky Mountain trilogy, which led me to Nelle Harper Lee, which led me to Kathryn and Charlie. Sometimes, you can’t plan a thing but it all happens anyway.
And this past Monday, our publisher, Ashley Gordon, of Mockingbird Publishers of Fairhope came to the workshop with her two wonderful boys, and we filled the upstairs loft with kids and adults making trees and telling stories. A father also brought his five children to the workshop, and his oldest son, Daniel, told me of the novel he was writing. His little brothers and sisters made trees and told stories of their trees. Kids have been talking about the trees they love and how the leaves and branches are like stories that connect us.
We’ll be posting about Monroeville and Dothan later today. Now I’ve got to pack for Los Angeles and meet students this morning. But I will say this book tour has been so special with Lucy and Norah and Olive in tow. Lucy is also a great driver, so it’s been astonishing to hand over the wheel to her. She’s even learned to pass timber trucks on the back-roads. Brave girl! 🙂
Much more soon. And a huge thanks to Ashley Gordon for taking us down to the Gulf to wade in the water after the workshop. Fairhope is so pretty I could stay there and just write for a summer. Maybe one day. Then we had pizza and loaded up and found our way to Monroeville, Alabama – home of Harper Lee and Truman Capote. That’s coming up next!
Lucy’s first trip to Fairhope (journal entries from 2005)
Norah’s blog about her first trip to Alabama in 2008
It’s Saturday night and I’m catching up on yesterday’s visit to Butler, Alabama, which is approximately 17 miles from the Mississippi state line in the piney woods and timberlands of western Alabama in Choctaw County. The lovely librarian, Ashley Taylor, set us up at the Butler Civic Center right next to the library, and we had around 25 kids, parents, and grandparents come to the workshop, which made for lively storytelling. We talked of friendship, stories, trees, and going on adventures. Lucy’s 3D illustrations inspired some 3D trees amongst the young artists of Butler who made peach trees, palm trees, oak trees, and a giant almond tree. They told stories while they were doing it and added characters to the tree pictures too. The only missing parts of the day were Norah and Olive. Norah eyed the 158 miles to Butler from Birmingham on Google Maps, and opted to sleep late and go rock-climbing with her friend, Seabrook, in the afternoon. As for our trusted traveling library pooch, we decided to give little Olive a break from her daily treks across Alabama so she could catch up on her beauty sleep too.
We told the children about how Kathryn Tucker Windham did not like piano lessons as a child, because she had an unpleasant teacher who whacked your knuckles with a pencil if you got a note wrong. According to Kathryn, the only thing good about playing piano was getting to climb the oak tree in the front yard while waiting for your lesson to begin. But this crabby piano teacher decided to cut the lower limbs off of the beautiful oak tree in her front yard, which meant the kids could no longer climb the beloved tree. In the story, Kathryn had this to say about the cranky piano teacher once the limbs were chopped off: “It did not increase my love for her in the least.” We also told them of the Alabama tree-sitting contests during her 1920s and 1930s’ childhood and how kids would climb trees and sit up there for days to see who would win all the ice-cream they could eat.
They are stories from this CD, which I hope comes back into print soon. “Front Porch Rocking Chairs.” http://www.bookdepository.com/Front-Porch-Rocking-Chairs-Kathryn-Tucker-Windham/9780874836585
Lucy also told the kids about Kiffen (her father) and how he could make pretty much make anything when she was growing up. He made cars out of boxes – windows cut right out the cardboard. Sometimes, he and the kids were in the backyard for hours either in the garden or making something like mud pies or movies. But the most memorable piece of cardboard art that I can recall was a large sleigh with cardboard runners and seats and everything.
Actually, it was during the Grinch phase. Kiffen built Flannery and Lucy the whole sled out of cardboard with two seats for each child, and then both kids smeared green food coloring on themselves and stuffed all the pillowcases in the house with beat-up toys and piled it high on the sled just like in THE GRINCH WHO STOLE CHRISTMAS. They just knew it was absolutely, positively going to fly. They mounted their cardboard sleigh ready to set sail over Los Angeles to deliver old toys even though it was nowhere near Christmas or maybe it was just after Christmas, I can’t remember. I do know they tied Birdy, our old dog, to the sleigh to take off, and then, horrors, it just sat there. They waited. Birdy thumped her tail, but still, nothing. After a few more seconds and then minutes of wishing and gravity, Flannery flew into a tailspin of grief – he believed so much in the power of cardboard and Daddy! He really KNEW it was going to fly high into the air.
Oh the tears, the fury! Daddy said it would fly, it was supposed to fly! Not just pretend fly!
Birdy sat shackled to cardboard sleigh, panting and miserable. Lucy was happy to pretend they were sailing over Silver Lake, but Flannery had to be consoled with hugs and snacks and a promise to the video store to rent THE GRINCH again. They were both still covered in Grinchy green food coloring, smeary green tears on Flannery’s face. But in the end, they finally they agreed to pretend, and in my heart and head, I really hope they flew over our neighborhood of Silver Lake in their imaginations, old Birdy, our dog, leading the way like Max from THE GRINCH, delivering beat-up toys to one and all.
Finally during our visit to Butler, two teenage girls and new high school graduates, Teresa and Alisa, also attended the workshop and afterwards we met at the library to talk about what they hope and dream for their writing careers. Alisa is off to Savannah School of Design (SCAD) to study graphic novels, and Teresa is off to Livingston to study communications and journalism. They are writing an article about us for the local paper in Butler.
Then it was “Meat and 3” at Miss Sissy’s Diner in York, about 30 miles north of Butler where Lucy had her first fried catfish to Judge Joe blasting on the television. We drove home to rest for the weekend because Monday is Fairhope, Tuesday is Monroeville, and Wednesday is Dothan! And then we’re done for June and heading back to Los Angeles for the rest of the summer.
Tuesday will be Lucy’s first trip to Monroeville ever to see the home Harper Lee and Truman Capote and approximately Norah’s 10th trip or so. 🙂
We headed up I-59 to Gadsden yesterday morning bright and early for a visit to the Gadsden Public Library where we were greeted by two wonderful librarians, Jillian Reeves and Carol Roark York, who welcomed us with open arms and simply made the day so easy-breezy and fun.
We got everything set up and showed the kids all the storycatching books, rocks, fairies, bones from Momma Frances’ Tennessee farm, acorns, pictures, and other treasures on the tables. One of the kids found my grandmother’s old black cigarette case that snaps open, and I said, “My grandmother, Elizabeth Baker, used to enjoy smoking a cigarette and doing her crosswords puzzles at the kitchen table in Leavenworth, Kansas. This was her old-fashioned cigarette case.” They laughed at the ancient cigarette still inside the black case.
Then for the first time, we sat on the floor in the storytelling corner with the kids and something just clicked in that moment. At the other libraries, we’d been standing and telling stories, but when we sat down on the floor with kids the stories just started flowing.
Maybe it’s because we know we just have a few library visits left together or that we’re just in more practice, but everything somehow connected and clicked at Gadsden. And the kids began making all kinds of trees with the buttons, fabric, twine, and ripped up paper. One little girl even cut out a tiny red dress for a little child figure under her tree the way Lucy cut out Kathryn and Charlie’s clothes from real material. The little girl even made shoes out of tiny seashells.
Another child said, “I don’t know how to make a tree,” and Lucy said, “You’re not supposed to know, but I bet you can figure it out.” And then the little girl just started hanging buttons for fruits and sticks for branches, and it all came together.
A grandmother, Mrs. Hicks, who brought her two granddaughters, said, “This is how we used to play together as kids.” And several people in Gadsden had heard Kathryn tell stories at Storytelling Festivals, and they had their own stories to tell too.
On a different note, there is a lot of upheaval and change (moving after 15 years!) going on in our lives right now back home in Los Angeles where we live part of the year. Even on this side of the country, Lucy’s starting her new life after college, and Norah’s about to begin high school, but getting to do these library visits together is a rare and special gift to treasure. The kids are so much fun and it’s like the busy, hectic world stops for a little while inside the library where we all get to breathe and play together. I’m cherishing each day with Lucy and Norah, and of course, Olive, the happy dog, who chewed on her bone and found many friends at the Gadsden Library too.
Afterwards, Olive even paid a visit to Princess Noccallula at waterfalls as you’ll see in the pictures below.
Tomorrow we are off to the Choctaw Public Library, which is not far from the state line of Mississippi in Western Alabama.
And here are more links and pictures from being on the road in Alabama.
More pictures from wonderful outreach Carol Roark York’s Flicker from our day at the Gadsden Public Library.
And Lucy’s short movie vines:
ON THE ROAD HOME FROM SELMA ALONG HIGHWAY 22: https://vine.co/v/huzB9jO0Bil?fb_action_ids=10151561523777885&fb_action_types=vine-app%3Apost&fb_source=aggregation&fb_aggregation_id=288381481237582
NOCCALLULA FALLS WITH OLIVE AND PRINCESS PRINCESS NOCCALLULA https://vine.co/v/huzuH0E10Mq?fb_action_ids=10151561523602885&fb_action_types=vine-app%3Apost&fb_source=aggregation&fb_aggregation_id=288381481237582
“She was twice blessed, she was happy and she knew it.”
The sign on the Selma water tower says, “History and Hospitality,” and we got both today with the extraordinary kids, teachers, and librarian wonder, Becky Nichols, gathered at the Selma Dallas County Public Library and then later a walk through the Live Oak Cemetery dripping with Spanish moss on the magnolia trees. We also displayed Lucy’s original art pages, and the kids loved her page of the Spanish moss illustration, which was shaped from an old green sweater she’d unraveled to hang from the trees created with real bark. She was inspired by the way Charlie Lucas grew up seeing art in everything, and that gave her the so many ideas about how to illustrate Nothing Fancy About Kathryn & Charlie.
New South Books writes:
A man’s lifelong love of books and reading overcomes the hurt of a childhood humiliation in this touching true tale related by Alabama storyteller Kathryn Tucker Windham on the occasion of the Selma Public Library’s 100th anniversary. As a child in the 1930s, Ernest Dawson loved books but was denied use of the library in segregated Selma. He grew up and became a teacher, and after segregation had ended, he left money in his will toward a children’s wing of the Selma library so that children of all races could read and learn.
Anyway, it felt good to be in that very same library with the kids making trees and telling stories. One boy made a tree with rope swing over a blue water. Another sculpted a grove of palm trees. A girl made a purple peach tree, and one of the teachers shaped an orange tree in the middle of town with a sturdy ladder so the kids could climb up it and pick one each day, and another artist’s weeping willow exploded with puzzle pieces.
At the end of the workshop, Olive made her appearance, too, and once she’d received plenty of love from the kids and at least three librarians, we made a trip to Hancock’s Barbecue, which was so delicious – tangy barbecue, ribs, cole slow, fried apple sticks (a new experience – more like fried applesauce) and onion rings with plenty of sweet tea. Becky told us Kathryn would definitely approve of a trip to Hancock’s. 🙂
Then we visited the Live Oak Cemetery and just before we found Kathryn’s grave, a redbird flew over my head, and I just felt her close by. It’s been a long time since I’ve walked around a cemetery, but it felt so peaceful being there with my girls after the workshop and an afternoon of art with the kids. The skies kept threatening rain, but the clouds only hung heavy with shafts of sunlight sparking up Selma at dusk. Then we took the winding roads back to Birmingham listening to Patsy Cline.
Oh, one more thing, the Rexall Drug sign reminds me of visiting Leavenworth, Kansas where my grandparents lived and paid many visits to Rexall Drugs, since that store seemed to carry just about everything back in the day or so it seemed to me as a child.
It’s going to be an early morning with more stories tomorrow from Gadsden, Alabama 🙂