No, I’m not cohabiting with a child from India. I’m trying to put myself in the moccasins of a little Creek boy who lived in 1785 and yes, I do know that Indian in this context isn’t politically or even historically correct.
Being just a tad self-absorbed, I usually write only about myself: my memories, my experiences, my opinions. Even when I wrote my three mysteries, which were fictional, everyone knew that the main character was guess who.
So, when I began to think about writing a fictional children’s book about six kids who all lived in the same place but at different times, I wasn’t sure I would have the imagination to dream up their lives or their story. My writer friend, Leslie, told me to let my characters tell their own stories and I believe that's good advice. But, before my character can tell me his story, I need to get to know him and to perhaps gain his trust. So here I sit in the red Georgia clay in a Creek Village in 1785, and I must say it’s pretty hot and my deerskin chaps are itching me. However, that squash soup his mother is cooking over the open hearth smells pretty darned good. I do keep wondering, though, where my cell phone is and I'm yearning for a Diet Coke.
The idea for the book began five years ago, my first year teaching second-graders in Atlanta. We were studying Georgia History and we traveled to the Atlanta History Center for a field trip. We were wandering around with a docent who had managed to garner the attention of the adults much better than that of the little ones. The kids were too busy pushing buttons and each other to focus. However, when our guide mentioned that the Battle of Peachtree Creek (the first of three Civil War battles fought in the Atlanta area) occurred where the Bobby Jones Golf Course is now situated, several stopped their shenanigans and perked up their little ears.
“I live on Bobby Jones!” said one. “I live right behind it,” said another.
I’m not sure they got it but I did. My students live right smack on top of history and so do I! I needed to figure out a way to help them to feel the connection.
We went back to school and created timelines and we talked about the history of Atlanta back before it was Atlanta, but I still didn’t think they were understanding. To them (and to me to a certain extent), time is linear. We think of time as being from a different place. So, I thought about telling a story about different children who lived at different times but in the same place.
I ultimately decided on six different stories, one for each child: Tuck, a Creek boy in 1785; Susannah, the daughter of a white general store owner in 1825; James, an escaped slave at the Battle of Peachtree Creek in 1864; Rosie, a mill worker in 1910; Carl, a black kid in the midst of the civil rights movement in 1961; and finally, Jessie, a child who could have been my student in 2010. I knew I needed to write about the history and social context for each of those times, but, because kids are kids, I also needed to make it interesting with some humor - a big job I began contemplating five years ago and one I'm still not quite sure I'm up for.
I am most fearful of writing about the earlier kids, especially Tuck, since his life seems most foreign to me and there are so many stupid ways I could misrepresent or diminish his culture, but I've decided to write it chronologically, attempting to be brave. Get it, brave? Indian brave? Okay, I guess I'm hoping that by saying everything ridiculous and embarrassing I can think of here on this blog, maybe it won't show up in the stories.
I'll of course let you know how it goes. But I must stop now as I think the soup's ready. I just don't know what I'm going to drink with it.
Creek water? Are you kidding me?