Today The Cat & the Fiddle welcomes Jeri Chase Ferris, author of many acclaimed biographies for children, including, most recently, Noah Webster and His Words (illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch). It's a real charmer!
Q: Why write about Noah Webster?
A: Everybody knows about Webster, right? He wrote Webster’s Dictionary, right? Right. But what else did Noah do? When you read NOAH WEBSTER & HIS WORDS you will learn how vital he was in keeping our fledging [one that is new] nation together; how he influenced our Constitution; how his books united America, and much, much more.
And why a picture book biography? I had written an earlier chapter book biography of Noah (WHAT DO YOU MEAN?), which sadly went out of print. Teachers and librarians often asked me for that book, and I was embarrassed to say it was not available. So I decided to have another go at Noah, this time a picture book.
Q: How’d you do your research?
A: I love history and research! I’m a historian and wanna-be archaeologist, and prefer digging up facts to just about anything – well, maybe not more than riding my horse.
For my first bio of Noah I dug into all the books and research already done on him, my husband Tom and I traveled to Noah’s geographical sites, and I corresponded with Noah’s great-great-great-grand son. That was like touching history itself, and added to the primary source material that is so critical to a NF work.
For NOAH WEBSTER & HIS WORDS, I reviewed all my previous research and happily explored additional new books and many new websites. I worked with the director of the NW Foundation, who read and vetted several versions of the ms. until it finally passed muster, and a researcher at Merriam-Webster provided some great definition ideas.
Q: Did Noah really always think he was right?
A: Yes. He would go on at great length to prove his positions, sometimes in the face of public ridicule. I admired his fortitude and the fact that despite being occasionally discouraged and depressed, he was never silenced by others’ negative opinions. He bounced back, sometimes even with humor, to “correct” his critics. He was convinced that Americans needed a national head of state, a national set of rules, standard spelling (at that time, the same word might be spelled ten different ways in ten different places), American history and reading and geography books, and ultimately, needed an American dictionary.
Q: What do you hope kids get from this book?
Language is fun!
Definitions will surprise you!
The more words you know, the more you can say!
And from Noah himself – never give up when you believe you are right.
Q: What are you up to now?
A: A Siege of Leningrad ms., THE LAST MOUSE IN LENINGRAD, is being edited. It’s based on the life of a Soviet friend who, beginning at age 10, miraculously survived 900 days of deprivation, freezing and starvation when Leningrad was surrounded by Nazi troops during WWII. This book began the evening my husband Tom and I were having dinner with our dear friends in their small Leningrad apt. It was Christmas for us (not for them) and they had decorated a tiny fir tree for the occasion. Leonid said, during dinner, “When I look at the yulka (fir tree) I always remember the Siege. Then we did not decorate the tree. We ate it.” I had to tell this story.
Also, I’m working on a MG historical fiction set on the Ohio River, about 1800.
Also, I’m starting a MG historical fiction set at the California Russian settlement of Fort Ross, about 1815.
Also, I’m thinking about a historical fiction picture book about a young immigrant girl in 1880s New England who had only one blouse and one skirt, and who …
Did I mention I love history?
In case you missed it, here's the link to the review of Noah Webster and His Words in Publisher's Weekly.
Many thanks to Jeri, one of my colleagues in the Children Authors Network.
This week's Nonfiction Monday Roundup is at LibrariYAn.