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On the Same Page with Patricia McKissack

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Children's author Patricia McKissack and panelists discuss "Precious and the Boo Hag," the story of a little girl left home alone with a stomachache.

After careers in both teaching and editing children's books, McKissack, with the help of her husband, Fredrick, decided to become an author of books for and about African Americans.

"I remember sitting in our car just the two of us and Fred asked, 'If you could do anything you want to do in this whole, wide world for the rest of your life, what would you do?'," McKissack said. "I said, 'Write books.'

"And he said, 'Okay, let's do that. We'll take it as far as we can go. We'll take it day by day.'"

From that point, they set out together with hopes "to enlighten, to change attitudes, to set goals, to build bridges with books." Whether working solo or with the assistance of her husband, McKissack has written nearly 100 children's picture books, young adult novels and non-fiction biographies about African Americans and their cultural experiences and histories.

Among her best known titles are "Goin' Someplace Special," "The Honest-to-Goodness Truth," "Let My People Go," "The Dark-Thirty," and "Mirandy and Brother Wind." She has received such prestigious recognition as the Caldecott Medal, the NAACP Image Award, the Newberry Honor and the Coretta Scott King Award, among others.

McKissack, who lives in St. Louis, was interviewed in conjunction with the Ozark Foothills FilmFest at the Regional Studies Center of the Mabee-Simpson Library on the Lyon College campus in Batesville.

OTSP host Tommy Sanders joined a panel of readers at Wordsworth Books in Little Rock. Those discussing the book are: Toran Isom, Ed.D., an instructor in the rhetoric and writing department at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and creator and voice of "Once Upon a Book" on KUAR FM 89; and Stella Hayes, an English teacher at Horace Mann Arts/Science Magnet Middle School.

"On the Same Page" has been called "Good television for people who love good books." Previously featured authors include: Crescent Dragonwagon, "Passionate Vegetarian;" Rick Bragg, "All Over but the Shouting;" Fannie Flagg, "Standing in the Rainbow;" Donna Tartt, "The Little Friend;" and Sandra Cisneros, "The House on Mango Street." Visit the program homepage at www.aetn.org/otsp.

The series is part of "AETN Presents," which has highlighted several special performances in recent years and has broadened its scope to include a variety of arts and cultural subjects.

The Arkansas Educational Television Network provides lifelong learning opportunities, improves and enhances Arkansans' lives and celebrates the unique culture of Arkansas through its programming. AETN's five transmitters and numerous cable system connections give it statewide reach.

Transcript

Sanders: HI AND WELCOME TO "ON THE SAME PAGE." I'M TOMMY SANDERS. TODAY ON THE SHOW, A FIRST FOR US, OUR FIRST CHILDREN'S BOOK. THIS IS "PRECIOUS AND THE BOO HAG." "PRECIOUS AND THE BOO HAG" IS A STORY OF A YOUNG GIRL NAMED PRECIOUS AND HER MATCHING WITS WITH THE TERRIBLE BOO HAG OF AMERICAN LEGEND. WONDERFUL BOOK; BEAUTIFULLY ILLUSTRATED. ONE OF THE AUTHORS OF THE BOOK, PATRICIA McKISSACK, RECENTLY SAT DOWN WITH OUR OWN CASEY SANDERS AND HAD A DISCUSSION AT THE OZARK FOOTHILLS FILM FESTIVAL IN BATESVILLE, ARKANSAS. WE'RE ABOUT TO SEE THAT INTERVIEW. WHEN WE RETURN, WE'LL HAVE OUR PANEL OF READERS AND, IN THIS CASE, EDUCATORS TO TALK ABOUT "PRECIOUS AND THE BOO HAG."

Sanders: PATRICIA McKISSACK, IT'S WONDERFUL TO HAVE YOU HERE TODAY. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

McKissack: THANK YOU.

Sanders: WE'RE GOING TO TALK TODAY ABOUT YOUR NEWEST BOOK, "PRECIOUS AND THE BOO HAG."

McKissack: "PRECIOUS AND THE BOO HAG." WELL, PRECIOUS STARTED AS A GIFT TO MY FRIEND ONAWUMI JEAN MOSS WHO IS AN INTERNATIONALLY RECOGNIZED STORYTELLER AND THE CO-AUTHOR OF THIS BOOK WITH ME. I GAVE IT TO HER AS A GIFT-- THE PLOT LINE, JUST THE STORY LINE-- AND SHE LOVED IT AND LOVED THE IDEA OF IT. SHE SAID, "BUT, YOU KNOW, PAT, THIS WOULD MAKE A WONDERFUL PICTURE BOOK. LET'S WORK ON IT TOGETHER." SO WE DID. WE DEVELOPED IT FIRST AS A BOOK ABOUT A LITTLE GIRL WHO WAS LEFT HOME ALONE AND THAT SHE WAS TOLD NOT TO DO THINGS, AND OF COURSE KIDS GET INTO ALL KINDS OF THINGS. NOW, THE BOO HAG CAME ABOUT BECAUSE WE WERE JUST LOOKING FOR AN ENTITY. NOT THE BOOGEYMAN. NO, THAT'S BEEN OVERDONE AND OVERUSED. WE DIDN'T WANT TO USE WITCHES OR WITCH OR ANYTHING, SO WE STARTED LOOKING THROUGH FOLKLORE BOOKS AND WE CAME UP WITH THE BOO HAG. NOW, THE BOO HAG IS A VERY FRIGHTENING AND TERRIFYING CHARACTER, AS IT IS PRESENTED FOR ADULTS. BUT A BOO HAG FOR CHILDREN IS JUST A SCARY ENTITY, SOMEONE YOU DON'T WANT TO HAVE AN ENCOUNTER WITH. AND SHE'S A SHAPE-SHIFTER. WE GIVE HER ALL OF THE CHARACTERISTICS THAT ARE THE TRADITIONAL FOLKLORE BOO HAG, BUT WE SOFTEN HER A WHOLE LOT FOR THE PICTURE-BOOK AGE GROUP. SO ONCE WE BROUGHT IN THE BOO HAG, THEN THAT GAVE US THE PLOTLINE TO CONTINUE TO TELL OUR STORY ABOUT NOT OPENING THE DOOR FOR STRANGERS WHEN YOU'RE LEFT HOME ALONE.

Sanders: SO IT'S A CAUTIONARY TALE.

McKissack: OH, IT'S A CAUTIONARY TALE.

Sanders: HOW DID YOU HANDLE THAT?

McKissack: WELL, WHAT I DID WAS TO LOOK AT, WHAT WERE HER CHARACTERISTICS? FOR AN EXAMPLE, THE BOO HAG CAN CHANGE HER SHAPE. WELL, THAT'S SOMETHING THAT I USED ALL THE WAY THROUGH HERE. SHE COMES IN MANY FORMS. SHE COMES AS A STORM; A VERY COLORFUL CHARACTER; SHE EVEN SHOWS UP AS A FRIEND. THE BOO HAG OFTEN WILL DO THAT TO DISGUISE HERSELF AS A FAMILY MEMBER WHO LIVES FAR AWAY AND SHOWS UP ON YOUR DOORSTEP. THERE'S SOMETHING NOT QUITE RIGHT ABOUT HER, BUT YOU'LL OPEN UP AND LET HER IN. THAT'S WHEN THE TROUBLE BEGINS. SO YOU EVEN HAVE TO BE CAREFUL OF MAKING SURE OF WHO YOU'RE LETTING INTO YOUR HOUSE.

Sanders: WHAT AGE GROUP?

McKissack: ACTUALLY, THIS CAN BE DONE, I WOULD THINK, KINDERGARTEN, FIRST, SECOND, THIRD, EVEN UP TO FOURTH GRADE. I DON'T GRADE PICTURE BOOKS. I THINK PICTURE BOOKS CAN BE ENJOYED BY ALL AGES. PEOPLE CAN ENJOY PICTURES, VISUALS, AND THE ART WORK IN THIS IS JUST INCREDIBLY GOOD, I THINK.

Sanders: IT'S WONDERFUL. WE'LL SHOW SOME PICTURES OF IT, I THINK, WHILE WE'RE DOING THIS INTERVIEW SO OUR VIEWERS CAN SEE. HOW DOES IT WORK WHEN YOU COLLABORATE WITH AN ILLUSTRATOR?

McKissack: YOU DON'T COLLABORATE WITH YOUR ILLUSTRATOR. MY EDITOR IS ANN SCHWARTZ. SHE WAS AT SIMON & SCHUSTER WHEN WE DID THIS BOOK, BUT SHE'S NOW AT RANDOM HOUSE AND SHE HAS HER OWN IMPRINT THERE, ANN SCHWARTZ BOOKS. BUT WHEN I SEND A MANUSCRIPT TO ANN, SHE SEES IT AS THE TOTAL PACKAGE AND SHE FINDS ILLUSTRATORS I WOULD NEVER THINK OF. SHE FINDS NEW PEOPLE. MY NEXT BOOK WILL BE ILLUSTRATED BY A MAN FROM ITALY. SO, SHE HAS ACCESS TO ALL OF THESE PEOPLE THAT I WOULDN'T. I DON'T KNOW THEM. ONCE SHE SELECTS THEM, WE SOMETIMES WILL TALK ON THE PHONE BUT NEVER ABOUT, "THIS IS THE WAY THE CHARACTER SHOULD LOOK" AND "THIS IS WHERE IT SHOULD TAKE PLACE" AND "THIS IS..." NONE OF THAT. IT'S ALWAYS ABOUT WHAT WAS IN MY HEAD WHEN I WAS WRITING IT: MY FEELINGS, MY THOUGHTS ABOUT WHO THIS CHARACTER IS. IS SHE A LOT LIKE ME? IS SHE LIKE SOMEONE IN YOUR FAMILY? THAT SORT OF THING BUT NEVER "I THINK SHE SHOULD LOOK LIKE THIS AND LOOK LIKE THAT" BECAUSE THAT'S THE BRILLIANCE OF A PICTURE BOOK IS THAT YOU HAVE TWO PEOPLE, THE WRITER AND THE ILLUSTRATOR. I WRITE AND CREATE THE IMAGES, AND THEN HE READS AND INTERPRETS WHAT I'VE WRITTEN. A LOT OF TIMES ILLUSTRATORS WILL BRING IN CHARACTERS THAT ARE NOT WRITTEN ABOUT OR THEY WILL SHOW THINGS THAT, "OH, ISN'T THAT NEAT? ISN'T THAT FUN?" SO YOU HAVE TWO CREATIVE PEOPLE DOING WHAT THEY DO. I'M NOT GOING TO TELL AN ILLUSTRATOR HOW TO ILLUSTRATE A BOOK; I DON'T KNOW HOW. I WOULDN'T KNOW WHERE TO BEGIN.

Sanders: HOW DID SHE DO WITH THE BOO HAG? CAN WE SHOW HER, DO YOU THINK?

McKissack: YES, PLEASE, BY ALL MEANS. THAT'S PRUELLA THE BOO HAG. SHE'S THE PRAIRIE BOO HAG. YOU KNOW, THEY'RE ALL OVER, AS BROTHER EXPLAINED TO HER. AND SHE'S TRICKY AND SHE'S SCARY. AND SHE'S TRICKY AND SHE'S SCARY. THAT'S THE TWO ELEMENTS YOU WANT TO REMEMBER. SHE'S A SHAPE-SHIFTER SO SHE CAN CHANGE HERSELF INTO MANY DIFFERENT LOOKS AND APPEARANCES. SHE COMES IN THE FORM OF A VERY COLORFUL WOMAN THAT LOOKS LIKE A RUN-AWAY RAINBOW. SHE'S GOT ON ONE PINK SHOE AND ONE ORANGE SHOE. SHE COMES IN RIDING... AS A STORM, RIDING IN ON THE BACK OF A STORM, AND SHE'S GOT LIGHTNING FOR HAIR. IT'S STREAMING OUT BEHIND HER. THE WAY A CHILD WOULD SEE A STORM, YOU WOULD SEE A BOO HAG IN A STORM. I THINK THERE WAS ONE HERE LAST NIGHT.

Sanders: A BOO HAG IN A STORM? WE DID HAVE SOME STORMS.

McKissack: YES, AND SHE WAS HOWLING IN THE WIND.

Sanders: IF YOU WOULDN'T MIND, EXPLAIN TO ME A LITTLE BIT MORE ABOUT THE FOLKLORE OF THE BOO HAG.

McKissack: FINE. THE BOO HAG ORIGINATES IN GEORGIA ON THE SEA ISLANDS. YOU WILL FIND HER ALSO IN TENNESSEE FOLKLORE AND WEST VIRGINIA FOLKLORE-- MOUNTAIN, APPALACHIAN. SHE'S A MUCH SCARIER CHARACTER IN FOLKLORE. SHE CAN ENTER YOUR HOUSE THROUGH CRACKS IF YOU LEAVE A CRACK IN THE WALL, THROUGH BEING TRIFLING, NOT STUFFING YOUR CRACKS. SHE CAN ONLY ENTER IF YOU INVITE HER THOUGH. SORT OF LIKE THE DRACULA MYTH OF, YOU KNOW, HE NEEDS TO BE INVITED IN TO DO HARM. WELL, THAT'S THE SAME WAY WITH THE BOO HAG. IF YOU INVITE THE BOO HAG IN, THAT'S WHEN SHE CAN DO YOU HARM. THE HARM SHE DOES IS TO RIDE YOU, R-I-D-E, TO RIDE YOU; AND THAT IS TO HOVER OVER YOUR BODY WHEN YOU'RE ASLEEP AND TO ACTUALLY PULL THE LIFE OUT OF YOU. PEOPLE WHO WERE VERY WEAK AND TIRED ALL THE TIME, THEY SAID, "OH, SHE'S BEING RIDDEN BY A BOO HAG." SO I TOOK ALL OF THAT OUT OF "PRECIOUS AND THE BOO HAG." I DIDN'T WANT IT TO BE THAT FRIGHTENING. SO WHEN SHE ASKED, "WELL, WHAT HAPPENS IF I LET THE BOO HAG IN?" BROTHER SAYS, "YOU JUST DON'T WANT TO KNOW" AND I LEFT IT AT THAT. IF YOUNG READERS WANT TO PURSUE AND DISCOVER THAT LATER ON, THAT'S FINE. BUT I WANTED THIS TO BE A BOOK THAT YOUNG CHILDREN COULD ENJOY. AND IT WASN'T HARD TO WATER IT DOWN FOR YOUNG KIDS BECAUSE THEY ENJOY MYTHICAL CHARACTERS LIKE THIS. THEY'VE CREATED THE BOOGEYMAN AND ALL KINDS OF MONSTERS WHO LIVE UNDER THE BED AND WHATEVER. WELL, THIS IS JUST ANOTHER ONE TO ADD TO YOUR CHILDHOOD COLLECTION OF SCARY THINGS AND THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT; BUT WHAT I DID WAS TAKE HER AND WATER HER DOWN AND MADE HER KID FRIENDLY, SO TO SPEAK.

Sanders: AND IT'S WATERED DOWN, IT'S KID FRIENDLY, BUT THOSE MESSAGES ARE STILL IN THERE. LIKE YOU WERE SAYING ABOUT, YOU KNOW, SHE DISGUISES HERSELF AS A FRIEND. THAT'S A PRETTY POWERFUL MESSAGE TO A YOUNG PERSON.

McKissack: I WANTED IT TO BE. I WANTED THEM TO... THE FOUR ELEMENTS THAT I USED HERE. I USED THE STORM. THE STORMS OF LIFE OFTEN COME, BUT PRECIOUS SINGS TO GET OVER HER FEAR. ONAWUMI BROUGHT THAT TO THE STORY BECAUSE WHEN SHE'S STORYTELLING, SHE USES MUSIC. SHE SAID, "WE HAVE TO HAVE MUSIC IN THIS PIECE" SO PRECIOUS SINGS TO GET OVER HER FEAR OR TO COPE WITH WHAT'S THERE. THE STORM COMES FIRST. WHEN THE STORMS OF LIFE ARE RAGING, WE OFTEN HOLD ON TO THE OLD SONGS AND TO THE OLD STORIES THAT KEEP US SURE AND STEADFAST. THEN SHE'S ENCOUNTERED BY A VERY COLORFUL CHARACTER, SOMEONE YOU THINK YOU'D LIKE TO KNOW BUT THEN WHEN YOU GET TO SEE REALLY WHAT'S UNDERNEATH ALL OF THAT GLAMOR AND ALL OF THAT COLOR AND CHARM AND WIT AND HUMOR, THERE'S SOMETHING REALLY QUITE UGLY. THEN THE THIRD ONE IS A FRIEND. A FRIEND SHOWS UP. OH, OF COURSE. BUT SHE SAYS, "MAMA SAYS YOU CAN LET ME IN." WELL, MAMA DIDN'T SAY THAT. SO SHE HAD TO TEST HER. PRECIOUS SAYS, "DOESN'T MAMA LOOK BEAUTIFUL IN HER PRETTY PINK APRON?" AND SHE GOES, "YES, YES, NOW LET ME IN AND WE CAN PLAY JACKS TOGETHER." AND SHE SAID, "NO, MAMA DOESN'T HAVE ONE THAT COLOR APRON. SHE'S ONLY GOT A YELLOW APRON. SO YOU ARE NOT TELLING ME THE TRUTH." SO SHE DIDN'T LET HER IN. THEN LAST SHE SHOWS UP AS A SHINY PENNY. BUT ONE OF THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE BOO HAG IS THAT SHE'S NOT TOO SMART. SHE'S NONE TOO SMART.

Sanders: AND PRECIOUS IS SMART.

McKissack: AND PRECIOUS IS SMART. SHE KNOWS THAT ABRAHAM LINCOLN IS SUPPOSED TO BE ON THE PENNY AND NOT GEORGE WASHINGTON, BUT THE BOO HAG DOESN'T AND THAT'S HOW SHE KNOWS THAT THE PENNY IS NOT A REAL PENNY BUT THE BOO HAG DISGUISED AS ONE. SO IF YOU LOOK AT IT FROM AN ADULT POINT OF VIEW, THOSE ARE ALL THE WARNING SIGNS THAT A CHILD WOULD NEED IN MAKING DECISIONS AND SOLVING PROBLEMS. THAT'S WHAT LITERACY IS ABOUT. AND THAT'S MY ULTIMATE GOAL HERE IS TO HELP YOUNG PEOPLE TO READ BUT NOT ONLY TO READ BUT TO READ AND LET WHAT THEY READ INFORM THEIR DECISION-MAKING AND PROBLEM-SOLVING. THAT'S WHAT LIFE IS REALLY... THAT'S WHAT LEARNING IS ABOUT ACTUALLY, TO ME.

Sanders: SOMETHING WE LIKE TO ASK OUR AUTHORS TO DO, IF YOU'RE COMFORTABLE, IS READ A LITTLE BIT FROM ONE OF YOUR BOOKS. WOULD YOU LIKE TO READ A LITTLE OUT OF "PRECIOUS AND THE BOO HAG"?

McKissack: I'D LOVE TO. I LOVE READING. PRECIOUS WOKE UP WITH A HEADACHE AND SO-- I'M SORRY-- A STOMACHACHE, SO MAMA SAID, "I'M GOING TO LET YOU STAY AT HOME BUT YOU DON'T LET ANYBODY OR ANYTHING IN THE HOUSE, NOT EVEN ME, BECAUSE I'VE GOT THE KEY." MY MOTHER USED TO SAY THAT TO US ALL THE TIME: "DON'T LET ANYTHING OR ANYBODY IN THIS HOUSE, NOT EVEN ME, BECAUSE I'VE GOT THE KEY." ALL RIGHT. "NOW BEFORE HE LEFT, BROTHER PULLED PRECIOUS TO THE SIDE. 'BE SURE TO MIND MAMA, NOW. 'CAUSE IF YOU LET SOMEBODY IN, YOU NEVER KNOW. IT JUST MIGHT BE PRUELLA THE BOO HAG.' 'WHO?' PRECIOUS ASKED WITH A DISBELIEVING GIGGLE. BROTHER SCRUNCHED UP HIS FACE. 'BOO HAGS LIVE ALL OVER, EVERYWHERE, BUT PRUELLA IS ONE WHO LIVES ON THE PRAIRIE. SHE'S TRICKY AND SHE'S SCARY, AND SHE TRIES TO MAKE YOU DISOBEY YO' MAMA.'" MMM-MMMM. "PRECIOUS HELD HER BREATH AS BROTHER WENT ON. 'PRUELLA IS STRANGE FROM HEAD TO TOE. SHE AINE TOO SMART, GOT NO MANNERS, HATES CLEAN WATER, CAN CHANGE HER SHAPE, AND, OOHH, SHE TELLS WHOPPERS.' THEN HIS VOICE LOWERED AS HE ADDED, 'AND SHE'LL DO MOST ANYTHING TO GET INSIDE.' 'WH-WH-WHY DOES SHE WANT TO GET INSIDE?' PRECIOUS ASKED, HER VOICE QUAVERING. BROTHER CLICKED HIS TEETH. 'YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW. BUT JUST REMEMBER THIS: NO BOO HAG CAN GET INSIDE YOUR HOUSE, LESS'N YOU LET HER IN.' THEN HE RUSHED TO CATCH UP WITH MAMA. NOW PRECIOUS WAS ALL BY HERSELF. SHE STOOD STONE-STILL, LISTENING TO THE QUIET, HOPING THAT IF PRUELLA THE BOO HAG WAS NEARBY, SHE WOULDN'T NOTICE HER... OR SEE THAT SHE WAS ALONE." EVEN THOUGH ADDIE LOUISE, HER GOOD FRIEND, HAD TOLD HER THAT THERE WAS NO SUCH THING AS A BOO HAG AND ALL OF THAT WAS JUST BROTHER TEASING HER, SHE WAS STILL A LITTLE BIT UNEASY. SO "TO PASS THE TIME, PRECIOUS LOOKED THROUGH MAMA'S HANDKERCHIEFS, THEN TRIED ON HER SUNDAY HAT AND HIGH-HEEL SHOES. SHE WAS HAVING FUN COUNTING ALL THE STRAWBERRY PRESERVES, WHEN SUDDENLY THE BIRDS STOPPED SINGING. THE AIR FELL THICK AND COLD. HONEYSUCKLE WILTED ON THE VINE. AND THE SUNNY DAY TOOK ON A DARK AND DREARY DISPOSITION." PRECIOUS LOOKED OUT THE WINDOW. SHE DIDN'T SEE ANYTHING THERE. SHE LOOKED OUT THE BACK WINDOW; DIDN'T SEE ANYTHING THERE. "BUT THEN SHE WENT TO THE FRONT WINDOW AND THERE IT WAS, RIDING ON THE BACK OF A STORM-- THE BIGGEST, MEANEST SOMETHING PRECIOUS HAD EVER SEEN. IT HAD EYES OF BURNING CINDER AND HAIR THAT SHOT OUT LIKE LIGHTNING. 'PRUELLA THE BOO HAG IS REAL,' SHE WHISPERED, 'AND SHE'S ONE AWFUL THING.' 'OPEN THE DOOR AND LET ME IN!' SHOUTED A VOICE THAT RIPPLED LIKE ROLLING THUNDER. THE WIND SWIRLED AND WHIRLED AND SHOOK THE WHOLE HOUSE. PRECIOUS SHOOK TOO, AND IN A SMALL VOICE SHE ANSWERED, 'MY MAMA TOLD ME NOT TO OPEN THE DOOR FOR NOTHING AND NOBODY.' QUICK, SHE DASHED BEHIND A CURTAIN AND SANG HER FEAR. 'PRUELLA IS A BOO HAG-- 'SHE'S RIGHT OUTSIDE MY WINDOW. 'SHE'S TRICKY AND SHE'S SCARY. 'BUT I WON'T LET HER IN.'"

Sanders: I SEE WHAT YOU MEAN. IT IS A BOOK FOR ALL AGES. IT'S WONDERFUL.

McKissack: THANK YOU.

Sanders: THANK YOU.

Sanders: THAT WAS CASEY SANDERS WITH PATRICIA McKISSACK, ONE OF THE AUTHORS OF "PRECIOUS AND THE BOO HAG." AND WE'RE GOING TO TALK ABOUT THAT BOOK. YOU'RE WELCOME TO "ON THE SAME PAGE." WE'RE HERE AT WORDS WORTH BOOKS HERE IN THE HEIGHTS IN LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS. WE HAVE AS OUR PANEL A COUPLE OF PEOPLE WHO WORK WITH BOOKS EVERY DAY AND ENJOY BOOKS AS WELL. I'D LIKE TO INTRODUCE YOU TO STELLA HAYES, WHO IS AN ENGLISH TEACHER AT THE HORACE MANN ARTS AND SCIENCES MAGNET SCHOOL, AND DR. TORAN ISOM, INSTRUCTOR OF THE RHETORIC AND WRITING DEPARTMENT AT U.A.L.R., THE UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS AT LITTLE ROCK, AND ALSO HEARD IN "ONCE UPON A BOOK" ON PUBLIC RADIO...

Isom: SO TRUE.

Sanders: ...HERE IN LITTLE ROCK.

Isom: GLAD TO BE HERE.

Sanders: GREAT TO HAVE BOTH OF YOU HERE. I'LL START WITH YOU, STELLA. HOW DOES THIS BOOK STACK UP WITH REGARD TO YOUR DEFINITION OF WHAT A CHILDREN'S BOOK SHOULD BE?

Hayes: THIS BOOK HAS MOST OF THE ELEMENTS OF A NOVEL THAT MY STUDENTS NEED TO BE FAMILIAR WITH. I LOVED THE CHARACTERIZATION. THAT'S ONE OF THE THINGS I TRY TO GET MY STUDENTS INTO CHARACTERIZATION BECAUSE THEY END UP HAVING TO WRITE A SHORT STORY BEFORE THE YEAR IS OUT. THE CHARACTERS HERE WERE JUST SO VERY, VERY REAL. I BELIEVE IT COULD APPLY TO ALL HOUSEHOLDS WHEN PARENTS ARE LEAVING AND KIDS ARE LEFT ALONE BY THEMSELVES. THEY GIVE THEM ALL OF THE DOs, THE DON'Ts; AND MANY TIMES THEY ARE TEMPTED, YOU KNOW, NOT JUST "WHY CAN'T I DO THIS" OR "WHY CAN'T I DO THAT," BUT I LOVE THE CHARACTERIZATION. IT WAS JUST SO VERY REAL.

Sanders: PRETTY NEAT TRICK TO PULL OFF CHARACTERIZATION IN A SHORT, SHORT FORM OF A KIDS' BOOK, RIGHT? WOULD YOU AGREE WITH THAT?

Isom: I REALLY WOULD. I GUESS I'M JUST ON A PERSONAL CAMPAIGN TO SAY "PICTURE BOOKS, NO AGE LIMIT."

Sanders: THE AUTHOR MENTIONED K-3 AS A POSSIBILITY BUT ALSO SHE SAID IT COULD BE ALL AGES; IS THAT RIGHT?

Isom: YES, YES.

Sanders: YOU'RE MORE WITH THE ALL AGES.

Isom: DEFINITELY. I USE THAT IN A UNIVERSITY-LEVEL CLASSROOM. WE ENJOY IT. I WOULD THINK THAT YOUR 8th GRADERS JUST EAT IT UP AS WELL.

Sanders: WHEN YOU TAKE IT INTO A UNIVERSITY-LEVEL CLASS, HOW DO YOU USE THE BOOK? WHAT'S THE FOCUS?

Isom: WE'RE ALL CHILDREN AT HEART. SO, JUST THE PURE JOY OF BEING EIGHT YEARS OLD AGAIN AND HEARING A STORY THAT'S JUST A LITTLE BIT SCARY BUT YET THE CHILD IS IN CONTROL; THE CHILD IS EMPOWERED. WE TAKE THIS AND APPLY IT TO OUR OWN EXPERIENCE. WHEN HAVE WE BEEN FRIGHTENED? WHEN WAS SOMEONE A THREAT TO US? WHAT DO WE DO WHEN WE'RE ALONE? THERE ARE JUST THOUSANDS OF THEMES EVEN THOUGH PICTURE BOOKS ARE ONLY ABOUT 32 PAGES.

Sanders: PRETTY UNIVERSAL, ALL THE THEMES IN THERE. SOMEONE CAN IDENTIFY WITH EVERYTHING THAT'S HAPPENING IN THERE. WELL, LET'S TALK ABOUT THE CHARACTERS SOME MORE, STELLA. WHAT ARE THE IMPORTANT QUALITIES OF PRECIOUS, THE MAIN CHARACTER?

Hayes: I LIKE THE FACT THAT PRECIOUS WAS A TYPICAL CHILD HERE. SHE DIDN'T BELIEVE... SHE REALLY DID NOT BELIEVE HER BROTHER ABOUT THE BOO HAG.

Sanders: AS MOST GIRLS DON'T BELIEVE THEIR BROTHERS.

Hayes: RIGHT. BECAUSE BIG BROTHERS TELL TALES.

Sanders: REALLY?

Hayes: THEY NORMALLY DO. BUT I LIKED THE FACT THAT SHE BELIEVED HIM TO AN EXTENT AND THEN I THINK WHAT HER MOTHER TOLD HER SORT OF STUCK WITH HER, "I HAVE THE KEY TO THIS HOUSE. DON'T LET ANYBODY IN." BUT THROUGHOUT SHE WAS ACTUALLY TEMPTED, AND I THINK WHEN THE BROTHER'S WORDS AND THE MOTHER'S WORDS CAME BACK TO HER, THEN THERE WAS CERTAIN OTHER ASPECTS, CHARACTERISTICS THAT SHE NOTICED ABOUT THE BOO HAG. BUT SHE WAS... SHE WAS BELIEVABLE.

Sanders: I CAN'T HELP BUT THINK THERE WAS A REASON THAT THE MOM SAID, YOU KNOW, "YOU'RE RESPONSIBLE" AND EVERYTHING LIKE THAT. YOU KNOW, "DON'T LET ANYONE IN." BUT THEN IT WAS THE CHARACTER, THE BROTHER, WHO COMES IN AND GIVES THE TALE, THE REAL DIRT ON IT BECAUSE THE BOO HAG... WHY DO YOU THINK THAT WAS?

Isom: WELL, I GUESS WE'D ACTUALLY HAVE TO ASK THE WONDERFUL PATRICIA McKISSACK HERSELF. BUT THE WONDERFUL THINGS ABOUT PICTURE BOOKS IS THEY'RE OPEN TO ANYONE'S INTERPRETATION. THE BROTHER IS AN OLDER FIGURE. HE'S SOMETHING OF AN AUTHORITY FIGURE. AND YET HE LIKES TO SCARE, THREATEN, HIS YOUNGER SISTER.

Sanders: BECAUSE HE SEES...

Isom: HE ABSOLUTELY DOES. I ALSO LIKE THE WAY THAT THIS IS A FOLK TALE BUT YET IT'S VERY ACCESSIBLE. KIDS CAN ENTER INTO IT. IT'S NOT AN ANCIENT FOLK TALE. FOLK TALES ARE TALES TOLD BY THE COMMON FOLK. I LOVE THE VERNACULAR HERE, THE DIALECT. YOU DO SEE THE SOUTH CAROLINA INFLUENCE. THE GULLAH CULTURE, I BELIEVE, IS A PART OF WHAT THE BOOK USED AS A CULTURAL BASIS. SO THERE'S JUST ALL KINDS OF THINGS THAT WORK ON MANY LEVELS.

Sanders: THE CHARACTER OF THE TRICKSTER IN STORIES SINCE THE DAWN OF TIME, SINCE MANKIND HAS BEEN AROUND, WHO ALSO CAN SHIFT SHAPES IS A COMMON ONE. WE FIND THAT IN JUST ABOUT ALL CULTURES, DON'T WE? THE REAL BASIS OF THIS AND IT SEEMS TO ME LIKE YOU CAN SEE IT IN FAIRY TALES THAT ARE VERY COMMON LIKE THE THREE LITTLE PIGS.

Isom: THE LITERAL WOLF AT THE DOOR. IN THIS CASE NOT A WOLF BUT APPEARING AS ALL THESE THINGS. AND HOW IT IS A PROGRESSION, AND HOW THE CHILD DOES HAVE TO SAY THE "NO" BUT YET USES A REPETITIVE CHANT, A SING-SONG AND SO FORTH AND SINGS HER WAY TO COURAGE. CHILDREN HEARING THIS WOULD JUST PICK UP-- DON'T YOU THINK?--

Hayes: THEY WOULD.

Isom: --ON THAT REPETITIVE CHANT AND THEY'D BE SINGING ALONG IN A GROUP BEFORE THE END OF THE BOOK.

Sanders: YOU ALL KNOW MORE ABOUT CHILDREN'S BOOKS. THIS IS THE FIRST TIME WE'VE HAD A CHILDREN'S BOOK HERE ON THE SHOW, "ON THE SAME PAGE." I'M WONDERING WHY ILLUSTRATIONS ARE SUCH AN IMPORTANT PART OF CHILDREN'S BOOKS. THEY SEEM TO BE ALMOST UNIVERSAL. WHY IS THAT?

Hayes: SOMETHING VISUAL APPEALS TO CHILDREN. EVEN IF THEY'RE READING A BOOK WITHOUT PICTURES, THE ILLUSTRATIONS IN HERE ARE WONDERFUL.

Sanders: FABULOUS. REALLY GOOD.

Hayes: IF WE WERE READING A BOOK EVEN WITHOUT PICTURES AND YOU'VE GOT ANYTHING ON THE WALL OR IN THE ROOM THAT CAN RELATE TO WHAT YOU'RE READING, I MEAN, THE KIDS' FACES LIGHT UP. THEY GET...

Sanders: KIND OF JUMPING-OFF POINTS INTO THE WORLD OF THE IMAGINATION AND EVERYTHING.

Hayes: YES.

Sanders: I THINK KIDS HAVE JUST AS GREAT IMAGINATIONS AS ADULTS.

Hayes: THEY DO.

Sanders: THEY COULD PROBABLY GET AS MUCH ENJOYMENT WITHOUT PICTURES. BUT YOU'RE SAYING THEY'RE MORE TO STIMULATE AND JUST GET THEM STARTED.

Hayes: YES.

Sanders: I ALWAYS WANTED TO ASK THAT.

Isom: THIS ILLUSTRATOR DID PAY CLOSE ATTENTION BECAUSE IT'S ALMOST COLLAGE-LIKE. THERE'S SOME FRAMING OF PICTURES HERE. IT LOOKS LIKE THE WEATHERED WOOD OF THE OLD HOUSE THAT THEY MIGHT HAVE RESIDED IN. THERE ARE PICTURES OF BITS OF REAL LACE OR A REAL JAR OF JAM COMBINED WITH THE MORE PRIMITIVE ART FORM. IT'S JUST INTRIGUING.

Sanders: THE AUTHOR MENTIONS THIS IN THE INTERVIEW THAT THE BOO HAG IN THE STORYBOOK, IN THE "PRECIOUS AND THE BOO HAG" BOOK, IS NOT QUITE AS SCARY AS THE BOO HAG THAT'S REALLY IN FOLKLORE. THAT SEEMS TO BE A TREND. WHEN I WAS A KID, IT SEEMS LIKE ALL THE CHILDREN'S BOOKS WERE JUST FULL OF TROLLS THAT WOULD EAT PEOPLE AND WITCHES THAT WOULD BOIL KIDS AND PIED PIPERS THAT WOULD LEAD THEM OFF A CLIFF AND EVERYTHING. NOW ARE THEY ALL BEING KIND OF SANITIZED OR CLEANED UP AND NOT BEING MADE TO BE TOO SCARY? IS THAT A TREND THAT'S GOOD OR BAD, OR AM I JUST IMAGINING THINGS HERE?

Hayes: I BELIEVE THEY ARE BEING CLEANED UP SOME. BACK IN THE DAY, IN MY... DURING MY TIME, WE WERE FAMILIAR WITH THE BOOGEYMAN.

Sanders: SURE, OH, YEAH.

Hayes: IT JUST USED TO FRIGHTEN US WHEN WE WERE TOLD, YOU KNOW, "IF YOU DON'T DO WHAT YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO DO AND THIS AND THAT AND THE OTHER, THE BOOGEYMAN IS GOING TO VISIT YOU TONIGHT." I MEAN, IT JUST INSTILLED FEAR IN MY HEART. THIS SEEMS...

Sanders: BUT YOU REMEMBERED THE STORY.

Hayes: I REMEMBERED IT. THIS SEEMS TO BE SUCH A MELLOW FORM OF THE WAY THE BOOGEYMAN WAS PRESENTED TO ME.

Sanders: WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THAT?

Isom: I'LL PUT IN A WORD FOR THE VERY SENSITIVE CHILD BECAUSE I WAS THE ONE IN THE GANG WHO WAS THE MOST EASILY FRIGHTENED, I THINK, AND SO I REALLY APPRECIATED THE FINE LINE THAT SHE WALKED AS THE AUTHOR HERE, BEING A LITTLE HUMOROUS, A LITTLE BIT SCARY, AND YOU ASKED ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATIONS EARLIER. PEOPLE WILL NOT WANT TO MISS THAT LAST PAGE, WILL THEY, THAT SORT OF INVITES CHILDREN TO PERHAPS CONTINUE THE STORY WITH WHAT THEY THINK, WHAT THEY SEE IN THAT ILLUSTRATION.

Sanders: WE'RE ALMOST OUT OF TIME HERE. I KNOW, TORAN, YOU'VE BROUGHT SOME OTHER BOOKS BY THE AUTHOR. WE HAVE TIME FOR YOU TO SHOW THEM AND MAYBE GIVE US ONE LINE ON EACH OF THOSE, WHETHER YOU GIVE THEM A THUMBS UP OR A THUMBS DOWN.

Isom: OH, I WOULD JUST BE HAPPY TOO. I'M SURE STELLA KNOWS ALSO HOW PROLIFIC McKISSACK IS. A FORMER CLASSROOM TEACHER, SHE AND HER HUSBAND ARE WONDERFUL RESEARCHERS. EVERYTHING FROM A NEW CHAPTER BOOK CALLED "LOVED BEST" WHICH IS BRAND NEW. "DAYS OF JUBILEE" IS JUST ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL ABOUT THE END OF SLAVERY. WE HAVE A DIARY FORMAT HERE CALLED "COLOR ME DARK," THE DIARY OF NELLIE LOVE. AND THEN A REALLY FACTUAL, TRUE BOOK "BLACK HANDS, WHITE SAILS," THE STORY OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN WHALERS. THAT CERTAINLY TAUGHT ME A LOT AS AN ADULT. AGAIN, BOOKS JUST KNOWING NO AGE LIMIT.

Hayes: THAT'S TRUE.

Sanders: STELLA HAYES, TORAN ISOM, THANKS SO MUCH FOR MAKING OUR FIRST CHILDREN'S BOOK SHOW A LOT OF FUN.

Isom: IT WAS FUN FOR US.

Hayes: IT WAS GREAT.

Sanders: AND YOUR ENTHUSIASM. THANK YOU FOR JOINING US TODAY ON "ON THE SAME PAGE." THE BOOK IS "PRECIOUS AND THE BOO HAG," PATRICIA McKISSACK AND ONAWUMI JEAN MOSS.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BECOME AN AUTHOR?

I USED TO TEACH 8th GRADE ENGLISH, AND I WANTED TO GIVE MY STUDENTS PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR, THIS POET, BECAUSE MY MOM USED TO READ HIM TO ME ALL THE TIME. I WENT TO THE LIBRARY AND THERE WASN'T A BOOK ABOUT HIM IN THERE SO I SAID, "I'LL WRITE IT MYSELF." SO I WROTE IT FOR MY STUDENTS, NOT TO BE PUBLISHED.

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