By Peggy Thomas
Happy Book Birthday! Today my new book Lincoln Clears A Path comes out from Calkins Creek Press, with amazing illustrations by Stacy Innerst.
In a previous interview I talked about my struggle to find the narrative thread in that book. I couldn’t manufacture the thread or it would ring false. I had to reveal it through research. Once I did, I also found the key events that would, like stepping stones, lead the reader from beginning to end through the story.
The thread that I pulled from all my research was Lincoln cleared a path. He had a lifelong drive to help others. “Clearing a path” was a phrase he used in letters and speeches.
The first main path-clearing event occurred when Abe was seven in Indiana. He literally cleared a path through the forest. He felled trees, cleared brush, pulled stumps, and plowed fields. I could hear the sound of an ax on a tree trunk, a scythe sweeping across grass, a tree stump being released from the ground, and a voice encouraging an ox. I wanted kids to hear it too. “Thwack! Abe helped his father fell trees. Swish! He cleared brush. Thwump! He pulled stumps. Yah! He plowed fields.”
In Rob Sanders NF FEST post last year he said that repetition can “evoke emotions, provide continuity, and leave a lasting impression with listeners.” I would add that it also provides indicators or sign posts for your reader. Every time the reader sees “Thwack! Swish! Thwump! Yah!” they’ll know the scene is another example of Lincoln’s path-clearing.
I used it seven times, not on every page. That would have become tedious. Sometimes I only used one sound. “He pulled off his boots and--swish—waded across the stream.”
I didn’t always use the sound effects literally, but also metaphorically as in, “Abe marveled at how the founding fathers--Thwack! Swish! Thwump! Yah!--cleared a path for folks like him."
Of course, to show how someone cleared a path, you have to show the obstacles too. By 1862, the war was going badly and Lincoln’s son had just died. “The president’s world seemed darker than the densest forest at midnight. How would he get his family and America through this heartache?”
By this point I’ve (hopefully) set up the metaphor and its meaning, so the next 4 double-page spreads simply reveal Lincoln’s ground-breaking acts accompanied by one of the sounds in the illustration.
I end with Lincoln's greatest path-clearing effort, the Emancipation Proclamation, and this quote:
“’Liberty to all’…clears the path for all—gives hope to all.”
Now it's time for cake!!
Peggy Thomas is the author of dozens of NF books for children including Full of Beans, AFBFA Book of the Year.
1/19/2021 07:38:37 am
I love the words - the SWISH and THWACK! And the strategic repetition.
1/19/2021 07:48:47 am
Excellent post! Love how those sounds created the path through the story!
1/19/2021 12:17:09 pm
This is really a fantastic book! I loved both your previous post regarding narrative thread and this one about your careful attention to words and how you've used these particular ones so winsomely and wisely. Thanks for sharing, I can't wait to share this book!
1/19/2021 12:31:32 pm
Adding to my TBR list. Thanks!
1/20/2021 12:17:05 pm
Peggy-Congrats lady!! I can't wait to get my copy of your new book. Love the onomatopoeia and repetition!
1/21/2021 06:27:00 pm
Adding this to my TBR list!
1/23/2021 02:20:45 am
What a wonderfully inspiring poet. I love how simple sounds became the foundtion for building your story. Thank you for sharing.
1/24/2021 09:09:49 am
To me, this post illustrates the value (and joy) of good research. When you've read a great deal about a subject or person, you are able to make connections and see repeated themes, and then--swish! THUMP! yah!--you've got a thread running through your narrative.
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