Happy 150th, Jo March! (and a giveaway)

Ladies and gentlemen, today’s word is “sesquicentennial.” Isn’t that a terrific word? It really rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?

Next Sunday, September 30, 2018, marks the 150th anniversary — the sesquicentennial — of the publication of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.

I doubt she could have foreseen her book’s enduring popularity, or have guessed that her story of four young women coming of age in the aftermath of the Civil War would one day be considered a classic — reprinted countless times with countless covers, adapted for film somewhere around a dozen times already, with not one but two more movies heading to the screen shortly.

Nor could she possibly have known the impact that her book, and in particular the character of Jo March, would have on generations of aspiring young writers.

I was one of them.

I spent seven formative years of my childhood and young adulthood in Concord, Massachusetts, the small New England town where Louisa lived when she wrote Little Women.

I used to save my babysitting money (I earned a whopping 25 cents an hour back then!) and ride my bike the mile to her home — which is called Orchard House — and treat myself to the tour. The ladies who led the tours were always so nice to me, and if they thought it was weird that I was there all by myself, they didn’t say so.

Orchard House

It’s a wonderful old historic house, filled with treasures from the Alcott family, which is easy to mix up with the March family, her fictional characters, because so much of the book was inspired by her own life, and her own family. Anyway, I remember just standing there staring at the little half-moon desk that her father had made her, and thinking, “Wow, that’s where she sat when she was writing Little Women,” and thinking that maybe I would have a writing desk of my own one day.

I desperately wanted to be a writer just like Jo March, Louisa’s headstrong fictional alter-ego, even back then.

And now, here I am, lo these many years later, and I do have a writing desk of my own, just like Louisa did, and my dream of being a writer did come true, and there are books with my name on them sitting on shelves in bookstores and libraries and actual readers’ homes across the country and beyond! And I have Louisa to thank for it.

https://www.heathervogelfrederick.com/blog/2010/04/fan-mail-friday/the-mother-daughter-book-club-2/I did thank her, in the only way I knew how — by honoring her in a book. The Mother-Daughter Book Club is my homage to Louisa and her Jo. It’s the tale of a group of middle-school girls in Concord, Massachusetts, whose mothers force them to join a book club and read Little Women. They soon discover how timeless the book’s themes are, and are surprised to find so many echoes of the March sisters and their trials and triumphs in their own lives.

So happy sesquicentennial, Little Women! I fully expect you to be around for at least another 150 years!

To celebrate this remarkable milestone, I think we need to have a giveaway, don’t you? I have a complete boxed set of all seven books in the Mother-Daughter Book Club series that I’ll be happy to autograph and send to one of you! Just leave a comment below, letting us know your connection to Little Women, and the impact it’s made on your life. If you haven’t read it yet, that’s OK, you can just leave a post telling us that you plan to (we’ll hold you to it!).

The winner will be chosen at random at midnight on the September 30, 2018, the 150th anniversary of the publication of Little Women! Share this giveaway on your blog or Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or other social media for additional entries. (If you share on social media, please leave a link in the comments so that I can assign you an extra entry.)  U.S. and Canada only, please. Have fun!

Happy book birthday & a giveaway!

Happy book birthday to me!

LittleWomenXmas_1

It’s officially here! My new baby goes on sale today in bookstores everywhere!

A LITTLE WOMEN CHRISTMAS is so beautiful it practically glows, thanks to artwork by the gifted Bagram Ibatoulline. Seriously, I just keep turning the pages and smiling! Every picture book author out there knows exactly how I feel — it’s an amazing feeling to see one’s story come to life visually — but to have your publisher choose an illustrator like Bagram Ibatoulline for your book … well, that’s when you feel like you just won the Triple Crown.

(You also feel like you won the Triple Crown when Publishers Weekly gives your book a STAR and calls it “brimming with warmth … as crisp and clear as a snap of winter air.” Wow! Click here to read the full review.)

This story is close to my heart in several ways. First of all, of course, because it’s really Louisa May Alcott‘s story, and I’m just re-telling it in a different form, for a different audience. Louisa was one of my childhood heroes. I lived in Concord, Massachusetts, from fourth grade through tenth grade, just a short bike ride away from Orchard House, the Alcott family home where Louisa lived and wrote Little Women. Being an aspiring author myself, I was awestruck. I used to save up my babysitting money (a whopping 25 cents an hour back then) for the entrance fee, then ride over and take the tour as often as I could. I’m sure the nice people at Orchard House got a little tired of seeing my eager face!

Orchard HouseOrchard House

It was incredibly inspiring to me to see the rooms where Louisa lived and worked. The half-moon desk that her father, Bronson Alcott, built for her so that she could have a place to write! The dining room where she and her sisters put on plays, just like my sisters and I did! I couldn’t get enough of it.

(By the way, Orchard House is making a documentary about the home’s 350-year history, and needs our help to fund it. If you’re a fan of Louisa May Alcott and Little Women, please click here to learn more about how you can support this important project.)

Back to Louisa and me. Let’s fast forward a few decades. My childhood dream has come true, and I am now a published author, thanks in no small part to the early inspiration which Louisa provided. I poured some of my gratitude and love for her into THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CLUB, which is set in Concord, and in which my fictional book club reads Little Women. There was plenty left over, though. Can you imagine how delighted I am to be able to pay tribute to her once again, with this beautiful book?

Let’s celebrate! It’s a birthday party, after all. I have two copies of A LITTLE WOMEN CHRISTMAS to give away. If you’d like to win one, just share your favorite Louisa May Alcott quote with us in the comments below. (Don’t know one? Hint: Google is your friend.)

Winners will be chosen at random at midnight on October 12th. US and Canada only, please. Share this giveaway on your blog or Facebook or Twitter or other social media for additional entries. (If you tweet or blog or otherwise share on social media, please leave a link in the comments below so I can assign you an extra entry.) 

BONUS:  Anyone who contributes to the Orchard House documentary Kickstarter campaign will be assigned TWO additional entries! Any amount qualifies — just let me know you’ve contributed. We’re on the honor system with this one.

Another weekend, another walk

Over Mother’s Day weekend, we ventured out to another nearby nature area we’ve been meaning to explore for a while: the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge.  Once again, it was an eye-opener — all this amazing natural beauty within just a few miles of our home!

The vistas were completely different from last weekend’s hike. For one thing, it was mostly flat.  For another, there was water – lots of water.  Marshlands and wetlands and a river, which meant of course BIRDS!


We spotted a family of Canada geese on the path ahead, but the scooted into the water as we approached.  Here’s a better picture:


Aren’t they beautiful?  I’ve had a special place in my heart for Canada geese ever since I lived in Concord, Massachusetts. When I was growing up there, our house backed up to a conservation area called the “Old Calf Pasture.” My sisters and I could run out our back door, through the woods, and straight into 500 acres of meadows and forest nestled by a river.  Talk about the best backyard in the world!

One day, my dad went down to the river to go fishing, and came home with a goose instead.  It had gotten tangled in some nylon line of some sort and was scared to bits. Somehow, he managed to throw his jacket over it and carry it back to our house, where my sisters and I watched as he gently clipped it free.  We wanted to keep it as a pet, of course, but my father explained that it was a wild animal, and needed to go back to its family.

And if you’re wondering, yes, there’s quite a bit of Jess Delaney in me!

Our hike last weekend, which started out in the hot sun through meadows that reminded me of that pasture, ended up on a cooler, shadier trail through the forest.


Wish I was there again right about now…

 

 

Patriot’s Day

I woke up this morning early.  I mean really early, like w-a-y before dawn.  I often do that when I’ve got a book cooking, as I do now.  Hard to stop the wheels from turning.  But this morning was different.  This morning something else was on my mind … Patriot’s Day!

I spent a goodly portion of my growing up years in Concord, Massachusetts.

And for anyone who grew up in this historic town, April 19th will always have a special significance.  First of all, we always got the day off from school.  Second, a parade was involved, along with fifes and drums and cannons and men in uniforms.  Last but not least, there was food.  Always a good thing when you’re a tween.

It was very exciting.

Our house was within walking distance of Minute Man National Park, and the Old North Bridge.

I considered it an extension of my backyard, and used to walk or ride my bike over there all the time.  I’d find a tree and climb it, and hang out spying on the tourists, or reading.  It was great.

The Old North Bridge was even more fun on Patriot’s Day, though.  Each time the holiday rolled around, my dad (who was the elementary school principal in neighboring Lincoln, Massachusetts, and who pounced on every educational opportunity that life afforded) would roust my sisters and me out of bed at 4:00 a.m. and hustle our sleepy little selves down the street to watch the battle reenactment.  I still remember the ripple of excitement that pulsed through the gathered crowd as two men on horseback thundered into view — men dressed up as William Dawes and Samuel Prescott, who had accompanied Paul Revere for the final leg of his famous ride from Boston raising the alarm (“the British are coming!”).  Paul didn’t quite make it to Concord.  A British patrol stopped the three of them just outside of town.  Paul was detained, but Dawes and Prescott escaped, so word got through.

Here’s N.C. Wyeth’s famous painting of Paul Revere:

Love that N. C. Wyeth.

As dawn lightened the sky, we began to hear the rattle and snap of snare drums, and gradually, more men appeared.  Redcoats, of course:

And also the local militia, the ragtag farmers and residents who streamed in from all the neighboring towns to join their Concord brethren in the face-off against the British.  Here are the Acton Minutemen arriving on the scene:

By this time my sisters and I were usually hungry, cold, and complaining that we had to go to the bathroom.  Sometimes, a quick trip home was in order.  More often, we were told to suck it up and hang in there.  Soon, the battle reenactment got underway:

Things looked dicey for a while for our minutemen, and I remember worrying that maybe this time it wouldn’t turn out so well for them.  But our side always rallied:

When it was over and the redcoats were properly routed and sent packing, it was time for the 21-gun salute.  I would plug my ears to try and block out the deafening sound, but this was pointless, of course, because the boom of the cannons reverberated through every bone in my body.

Finally, it was time for the best part of the morning, the event my sisters and I had REALLY been waiting for:

The parade was the icing on the cake.

Nowadays, of course, Patriot’s Day is celebrated on the third Monday in April, no matter the date.  It’s only once in a blue moon that it actually falls on April 19th, as it did this year.  Maybe that’s why I awoke so early this morning…

Time to rustle up some pancakes.