Kathleen Wilford Presents Her Debut Novel: Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt + A Chance to Win a Copy.

It’s been my pleasure to recently read an ARC for a new MG historical. Kathleen Wilford’s debut CABBY POTTS, DUCHESS OF DIRT (Little Press) is a delightful story set in the 1870’s during the migration of Americans to the prairies of the Midwest for homesteading. Here is my review:

This historical fiction story set in the 1870’s, is a fast-paced trip to the days of homesteading on the Kansas prairies. When her parents force her to work at grand Ashford Manor, 12-year-old Cabby Potts will do anything to escape, including playing matchmaker between her sister and the rich young lord of the manor. If it succeeds, her scheme will save her family’s struggling homestead. If it fails? Cabby can’t even think about that.

Can Cabby find the courage to stand up for her family, a Native American friend, and an entire community threatened by land-grabbers?

The author does a wonderful job grounding the reader in time and place with period details and appropriate phrasing and language of the era. “My brain buzzed like it was full of gnats” is one of many similes that feels fresh and original. The characters are well-rounded and engaging, making for a quick read. Readers will enjoy Cabby’s antics and feisty demeanor as she navigates the unfamiliar world of the wealthy. A highly recommended debut.

I interviewed Kathleen to learn more about how she came up with her story.

Cabby Potts cover (no wrap)

What was your inspiration for Cabby Potts?

I ran across a book called Prairie Fever, by Peter Pagnamenta, and I was intrigued to learn about the British aristocracy’s fascination with the American West. Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt is based on the true story of Victoria, Kansas, an enclave of British aristocrats in the 1870’s. Victoria was designed as a “community of culture and refinement” where “the arts and graces of life” could be imported straight from London.

I couldn’t imagine a bigger culture clash than between the English nobility and hardscrabble American homesteaders. I pictured an outdoorsy 12-year-old girl forced to work as a housemaid at a grand English manor, and the character of Cabby was born. Trying to save her family’s struggling homestead, Cabby plays matchmaker between her pretty, romantic sister Emmeline and the rich young lord of Ashford Manor. What could go wrong with that scheme?

As an author of historical fiction myself, I was immediately drawn into the setting and era of the story. What drew you to writing historical fiction?

I love the way historical fiction immerses readers into a different world. All good fiction is immersive, but with historical fiction, the past comes alive in a fresh way. And there’s a serious side too: I believe that to understand where we ARE, we need to understand where we’ve BEEN. Non-fiction helps readers do that too, but fiction adds an important layer of empathy.

As for this particular era, 1870’s Kansas, I’ve always been fascinated by pioneer literature, from Willa Cather to Laura Ingalls Wilder. My life is so easy compared to women who endured life on lonely prairies, living in sod houses and struggling to keep themselves and their families alive.

Tell us a bit about your research process.

I like to begin with books that situate the time period I’m studying in a larger historical context. I follow that up with more specific books and then with primary sources. For Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt, I consulted homesteader journals, 1870’s editions of the Dodge City Times, an 1841 book by Dr. Samuel Sheldon Fitch called Diseases of the Chest (fascinating, trust me), Mrs. Beeton’s book on the duties of a housemaid . . . etc.! Since I work for Rutgers, I’m lucky enough to have access to the rich depth of primary materials owned by the university. I think primary sources are key not only to authentic details but to the language of the times.

Several experts also helped me with questions, and of course, Google is great for filling in details!

What amazing thing did you discover while writing?

How much time do we have?? I learned so many fascinating tidbits of information, many of which I couldn’t include in the book but would be happy to tell you about sometime. Some facts that DID make it into the book: people used to believe that walking on the prairie could cure consumption (tuberculosis)—housemaids were not allowed to whistle in the house—dried up buffalo dung was burned for fuel.

One fact that informed my book: fully half of all homesteaders didn’t make it and never “proved up” on their claims. We tend to romanticize homesteading on the prairies, but it was brutally difficult.

What message do you want young readers to take away from this story?

I hope kids will enjoy a funny, fast-paced story with lots of drama! Beyond that, I hoped to give readers a clearer picture of the homesteading life. Along with showing how difficult the life was, I wanted readers to see how race and class prejudices infiltrated even supposedly egalitarian rural America. Cabby wakes up to this prejudice as she forms a friendship with Eli, a half-Kiowa boy. She finally learns to use her “intemperate tongue” to stand up for him, her family, and her whole community. In Cabby Potts, I tried to portray a funny, feisty girl growing into more awareness of her world, with all its imperfections. She learns to use her voice to make that world a better place, something I hope we all can do.

What’s next for you?

I have some irons in the fire, but they’re pretty unformed at this point!

Kathleen has agreed to give away a signed ARC of the book to one lucky reader drawn at random. To enter, leave a comment. If you share this post on social media, I will give you a second entry. Winner will be announced at the end of the month.

Kathleen Wilford head and shoulders

Kathleen Wilford was born in Panama and has lived in four different countries and three different states—but never in Kansas. She studied literature at Cornell University and at Rutgers University in New Jersey, where she now teaches writing. When she’s not teaching or writing, Kathleen can be found outdoors, chasing her disobedient dog.

Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt is Kathleen’s debut novel for kids. Connect with Kathleen at https://www.kathleenwilford.com/ On Twitter: https://twitter.com/kathwilford

Ordering info is on my website or:

Pre-order Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Cabby-Potts-Duchess-Kathleen-Wilford/dp/1956378049/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2297827D9DKDE&keywords=cabby+potts%2C+duchess+of+dirt+by+kathleen+wilford&qid=1658255877&sprefix=%2Caps%2C542&sr=8-1

Or at my local bookstore for a signed copy: https://bookwormbernardsville.indielite.org/now-available-pre-order-cabby-potts-duchess-dirt

Book Review: AFRICAN TOWN by Irene Latham and Charles Waters

Every now and then I come across a book that leaves me breathless and awed by its storytelling and power. AFRICAN TOWN african townby Irene Latham and Charles Waters is just such a book. Here is the blurb from the publisher:

Chronicling the story of the last Africans brought illegally to America in 1860, African Town is a powerful and stunning novel-in-verse.

In 1860, long after the United States outlawed the importation of enslaved laborers, 110 men, women and children from Benin and Nigeria were captured and brought to Mobile, Alabama aboard a ship called Clotilda. Their journey includes the savage Middle Passage and being hidden in the swamp lands along the Alabama River before being secretly parceled out to various plantations, where they made desperate attempts to maintain both their culture and also fit into the place of captivity to which they’d been delivered. At the end of the Civil War, the survivors created a community for themselves they called African Town, which still exists to this day. Told in 14 distinct voices, including that of the ship that brought them to the American shores and the founder of African Town, this powerfully affecting historical novel-in-verse recreates a pivotal moment in US and world history, the impacts of which we still feel today.

Here’s my review:

This YA novel-in-verse, inspired by the true story of the last African slave ship Clotilda, is not to be missed. Stunning in scope and breathtaking in detail, readers become part of the group of survivors who endure captivity aboard the ship, suffer brutality and deprivation as slaves in an unfamiliar country, and never forget their African roots. Told in alternating points-of-view, by characters named for the actual people who were kidnapped and brought to Alabama before the start of the Civil War, even though slavery was then illegal…on paper. At times heart-wrenching and uplifting, the spirit of survival and freedom resonates and endures in the hearts and minds of these courageous souls who create a new home away from home in a place they never chose to be. Beautifully written and respectfully told, this story will stay with you long after the reading is done.

If you haven’t read this book yet, I encourage you to do so and to pass it along to your friends and family.

REST IN PEACE PAULA COHEN MARTIN…Your Memory and Books Will Live on.

Paula zl

The children’s writing world has lost another champion at the recent passing of Paula Cohen Martin. As sad as that is, it is sadder still that she died before she was able to bring her first picture book out into the world. Her stories and amazing illustrations will live on.

To honor her memory and help her book reach the population of the young children she loved, It is my honor to feature the book on today’s blog.

big dreams small fish

In the new country, Shirley and her family all have big dreams. Take the family store: Shirley has great ideas about how to make it more modern! Prettier! More profitable! She even thinks she can sell the one specialty no one seems to want to try: Mama’s homemade gefilte fish.

But her parents think she’s too young to help. And anyway they didn’t come to America for their little girl to work. “Go play with the cat!” they urge.

This doesn’t stop Shirley’s ideas, of course. And one day, when the rest of the family has to rush out leaving her in the store with sleepy Mrs. Gottlieb, Shirley seizes her chance!

BIG FISH, SMALL DREAMS is a love letter to the American Ashkenazi immigrant experience in the 20th century, no small part of which entailed girls finding their voices and their power in ways they had never before been able to do. Protagonist Shirley, with a good head on her shoulders, is one of those girls. Paula was eager to include Yiddish in her text and to make sure it was as authentic and historically accurate as her images. It is a delight to read and a wonderful way to remember her.

Here is a review from PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY:

 “This Yiddish-punctuated slice-of-life story, Cohen’s picture book debut, wears its nostalgia lightly; the narrator’s voice is as crisp as the illustrations’ black outlines. What really matters here is timeless: an indomitable protagonist and the loving family who dotes on her.” -Publishers Weekly