Friday, January 11, 2008
Riding to Washington
by Gwenyth Swain
Illustrated by David Geister
Janie is not exactly sure why her daddy is riding a bus from Indianapolis to Washington, D.C. She knows why she has to go--to stay out of her mother's way, especially with the twins now teething. But Daddy wants to hear a man named Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak and, to keep out of trouble, Janie is sent along. Riding the bus with them is a mishmash of people, black and white, young and old. They seem very different from Janie.
As the bus travels across cities and farm fields to its historic destination, Janie sees firsthand the injustices that many others are made to endure. She begins to realize that she's not so different from the other riders and that, as young as she is, her actions can affect change.
Though fiction, Riding to Washington is a very personal story for Gwenyth Swain as both her father and grandfather rode to Washington, D.C. to participate in the 1963 Civil Rights march on the nation's capital. Ms. Swain's other books include Chig and the Second Spread and I Wonder As I Wander. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Meet Author Gwenyth Swain!
Web site: www.gwenythswain.com
Blog: The gwenyth swain Blog
I'm the youngest of five children--all girls! I grew up in the hills of southern Indiana on Wallow Hollow Road. My mother was a homemaker and my father built houses for a living. My grandfather, a retired Methodist minister, and my grandmother had a little house on a hilltop just a short walk from my home.
Maybe we were a bit isolated (the nearest town, and the biggest in the county, had only 700 residents!), but we were aware of the larger world. I was too young in 1963 to remember the March on Washington-- the subject of my most recent book, RIDING TO WASHINGTON--but I do recall my parents discussing Civil Rights.
Featured book: Riding to Washington
Q: What inspired you the most to write this book?
A: My father, Hank Swain, used to tell me stories when I was young about his trip to Washington, D.C., in August 1963. I was only two in 1963, so I don't remember what happened, but my father got interested in a Civil Rights event called the March on Washington. He talked about it to my grandfather, and soon they both wanted to go. My family's white, but we've always been interested in Civil Rights--and social justice. So, it wasn't out of character for my father and grandfather to go to the March. They drove up to Indianapolis, the nearest big city, and got on a bus that would take them to D.C. Everything went well until they stopped for dinner. They had to stop several times until they found a restaurant that would serve a "mixed" crowd of blacks and whites. I know my father must have told me a lot about the March itself, but the part that really stuck with me was the story of the journey there. I'd never faced discrimination in my young life: I just couldn't figure out why restaurants wouldn't serve my father and grandfather and the others on that bus. As an adult, what also inspired me to write RIDING TO WASHINGTON is the belief that ordinary people can make history. After learning about the March on Washington and the journeys people took to get there, I became convinced that everyone who was in that March made history, even before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., rose up on the podium and gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
Q: Describe part of the research process it took to write this manuscript.
A: Most of my research involved talking with my parents. I talked to both of them at length. I particularly wanted to know how my mother felt about being left at home with me and my four older sisters--especially since she's just as interested in social justice as my father is. I also looked at photographs of the March, listened to radio interviews with other people who attended the March, and re-read my father's brief memoir about it, "A March of Hope." It's from a small magazine called OUR BROWN COUNTY, and you can find it on the web at Our Brown County
Q: Describe your typical writing schedule.
A:I fit in writing whenever I can. I've got two children, ages 9 and 6, and a part-time job as a middle-school librarian. So writing time is always hard to find. But when I've got a minute, I either grab a notebook or my laptop and start working. Right now, I'm revising a time travel novel that takes place on Ellis Island, finishing up an article on time travel books for BOOK LINKS magazine, waiting for editorial comments on an online article about traveling to Quebec City, Canada, and trying to read some of the books that are getting Newbery "buzz." Sometimes it seems like too much for one person, but writing's the best job there is.
Q. Share one tip you would like to give about writing a picture book based on a personal experience.
A: Don't be afraid to change the real story and make it your own. For example, I was too young to have gone to the March on Washington, but I always wanted to go, once I was old enough to hear my father's stories. The most fun I had in writing RIDING TO WASHINGTON was putting the girl Janie (who's very much like me) into the story and letting her go to the March in my place. She's a lot more spunky that I am, so that made the story fun, too. After all, doesn't everybody love a troublemaker? I loved creating a character who was enough of a troublemaker to figure out that some trouble (like stepping in and convincing the boy at the gas station to hand over the bathroom key) is worth making.
Posted by Nancy I. Sanders